Recently, Israel blew the lid off of deplorable Hamas operations to divert humanitarian aid from development projects in Gaza into their efforts to attack Israeli civilians. And, sadly, the United Nations, and by implication, our tax money, was also affected.
The more notorious of the humanitarian aid scandals in Gaza was the arrest of Mohammed El Halabi, Gaza director of World Vision, a Christian charity, for funneling millions of dollars worth of money and supplies to Hamas over a multi-year period. World Vision gets funding from individual donors, churches, foundations and grants from many Western governments. The large amount of money that was diverted is staggering and deeply disturbing. The scandal has led some countries to withhold aid to World Vision, which has suspended operations in Gaza while it investigates. World Vision issued a statement condemning terrorism in only a general way, and instead of showing genuine horror that funds sent from donors (who thought it would benefit Palestinian children) were instead diverted to a terror organization bent on killing Israeli children, expressed skepticism about the allegations and lectured Israel on transparency.
The U.N. connection? Prior to working at World Vision, El Halabi worked at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). As Israel alleges, as part of his work for UNDP, El Halabi sent “farmers” to the areas near the border between Israel and Gaza, where they acted as scouts for Hamas terrorists (see more information on the El Halabi case here). The U.N. honored El Halabi as one of its “humanitarian heroes” in 2014 as part of World Humanitarian Day. That webpage was taken down, but is still archived here. World Vision has still not taken down an identical article about El Halabi on its own website.
After El Halabi was detained, a second arrest was made, this time of a UNDP Gaza staffer named Waheed Borsh, who allegedly funneled concrete, which was used to construct a base for Hamas’s terrorist operatives.
The U.N. reacted to news of the arrest similarly to World Vision—with concern about the allegations but also some skepticism and hectoring of Israel on judicial transparency. It should go without saying that Israel is a democracy with a strong standard of rule of law, while being careful not to endanger security. Gaza, on the other hand, is run by a terrorist gang that summarily executes people.
The U.N. also absurdly claimed that Borsh, as a U.N. employee, was entitled to diplomatic immunity. Borsh, however, was a local staff person, not a diplomat. If a local staffer at U.N. Headquarters in New York was accused of giving money to Al Qaeda, or a staffer at UNESCO in Paris of supporting ISIS, would the U.N. also claim diplomatic immunity for them? Highly doubtful.
In an added insult, the U.N. demanded that Borsh be let go from the prison where he is being held in Be’er Sheva. But, they did not write it Be’er Sheva, they chose to use Bi’ir as-Sab, the Arabic name for the city—a city with ancient Jewish historical connections. This tactic of purposefully mislabeling Israeli cities and towns with Arab names is a favorite of those who hate Israel and want to see it destroyed and replaced with an Arab state. For the U.N. to degrade itself in this way while demanding that Israel release a staffer accused of using U.N. resources to support terrorism is an unnecessary added provocation. These types of games should have no place under U.N. letterhead. Was this done by mistake? Then the U.N. should admit to it and apologize.
Israel hinted when El Halabi was arrested that there could be more arrests coming down the line. Unfortunately, these examples are also not the first time that Palestinian groups have taken advantage of well-meaning donors. During Operation Protective Edge, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. agency funded by many Western donor governments that takes care of Palestinian refugees and their offspring in perpetuity (while all other refugees are taken care of under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees—UNHCR), found Hamas rockets hidden in their schools. It is not only Hamas that takes advantage—the Palestinian Authority takes in massive amounts of aid from Western donor governments while continuing to run a pension system for terrorists.
Indeed, transparency and accountability is needed, but from the humanitarian NGOs and U.N. agencies working in Gaza who are being used to further Hamas war aims against Israeli civilians.
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.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been in the news over the past few months for outrageous attempts by the Palestinians to seek to use the institution to erase Jewish history. These attempts are toxic to any hope of finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and put the reputation of UNESCO in grave danger. It is also not a new phenomenon.
In recent years, the Palestinian leadership has pushed a consistent strategy of avoidance of direct negotiations with Israel in favor of internationalizing the conflict. They do this by going to international institutions to attack Israel in the wildly misguided hope of having the international community impose Palestinian negotiating positions on Israel.
One of the first targets the Palestinians set was UNESCO, where, thanks to an automatic majority at U.N. bodies, they were accepted as a member “state,” even though no such state exists. The Palestinians showed their gratitude to UNESCO for this newly-acquired illegitimate “state” status by politicizing the organization as a tool to both erase the Jewish connection to our people’s history in our ancient homeland, and to advance the Palestinian narrative. This was not necessarily a new strategy (for instance, in 2010 the UNESCO Executive Board passed a resolution declaring the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as Palestinian holy sites), however it was ramped up.
The Palestinians quickly moved to place the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage site in the “State of Palestine,” and moved to place it on a list of heritage sites in danger, even though there is no threat to the church, unlike sites of ancient civilizations in other parts of the Middle East that have seen wholesale destruction. Following the Church of the Nativity, the Palestinians also convinced UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to place Battir, a town south of Jerusalem that sits on the 1949 armistice line, on the list of heritage sites in danger.
By far the most dangerous of the games played at UNESCO by the Palestinians is the attempt to strip Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, from Judaism and the Jewish people. The Temple Mount, the section of Jerusalem’s Old City where the ancient Temple was housed before its destruction, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans, is the holiest site in Judaism.
What is undeniable, unless, that is, you are a UNESCO delegate from certain countries, is the connection between Judaism and this site. It is the center of our collective heart. The site is also important for Christians (who also know the site by the name the Temple Mount) and Muslims (who refer to it as Al-Haram Al-Sharif). UNESCO resolutions have taken to calling the site only by its Arabic name and described it as a Muslim site, ignoring millennia of Jewish history.
More on the United Nations and its Agencies
As if this was not appalling enough, the Palestinians even had the gall to try to claim the Western Wall (the Kotel in Hebrew) as well. Last October, the Arab Group presented (on behalf of the Palestinians) a resolution to the Executive Board that said the Western Wall Plaza (referring to it as “Al-Buraq Plaza,” an uncommonly used name) was an “integral part” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (which sits atop the Temple Mount). An international uproar ensued, and the offensive language was removed from the final (and still deeply-flawed) resolution.
But the attempt at historical revisionism has not ceased. The following Executive Board session, in April 2016, passed a resolution that referred to the Kotel plaza in the following disrespectful way: Al-Buraq Plaza/“Western Wall Plaza.” The UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in July 2016 copied this language on the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, as if the Palestinians can simply get UNESCO to disregard historical fact by repetition.
Why are the Palestinians and their fellow-travelers trying to re-classify the Western Wall (and when that fails, rename it)? It comes back to the Temple Mount. The Western Wall is the sole remaining still-standing structure of the Temple compound. It is the retaining wall on the western edge of the compound. It is an inconvenient reminder for the Palestinians, who have their own aspirations for a capital in Jerusalem, that the heart of the city is deeply and fundamentally tied to Jewish history and the Jewish people.
All of the UNESCO moves by the Palestinians are part of a broader strategy to rebrand history so that it fits within the Palestinian narrative while at the same time trying to erase the Jewish ties to Jerusalem. It won’t work. Jerusalem is holy to three religions, of course, but the link between Judaism and Jerusalem is unique in history. By seeking to use UNESCO resolutions to loosen the ties between Judaism and Jerusalem, the Palestinians will only succeed in sullying UNESCO’s reputation.
For more than a year now, the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document Nostra aetate, on Catholic relations with other faiths, has been celebrated. Though lamentably still unknown by most people irrespective of their religion, Nostra aetate is indeed of great importance in a positive sense. Catholic bishops’ formal post-Holocaust adoption, not without internal struggle, of an essentially constructive approach to Jews marked a pivoting away from the contempt and estrangement that had characterized much of nearly two millennia of relations between the church and the Jewish people. Even more substantial, though, has been the remarkably rapid and continual deepening of Catholic-Jewish friendship in the few decades that followed 1965.
At the same time—ironically, since Nostra aetate is probably more often commemorated by Jewish institutions than by Catholic communities worldwide—the document is not quite, from a Jewish vantage-point, a “perfect” one. The text, which makes clear the special status afforded by the church to Judaism in light of Christianity’s Jewish roots, is nonetheless a decidedly Christological one, written by Christians for Christians. Even as it continues to be abhorred by a tiny fringe of Catholic ultraconservatives, its content fell somewhat short of what Jewish communal professionals at the time (and some theologically progressive Catholics) had hoped for. The declaration established, vitally, that “the Church… decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone,” that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures,” and that a charge of responsibility for the death of Jesus cannot be applied to “all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” It does say, though, that “the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ,” and that most Jews did not adopt Christianity, adding, “indeed not a few opposed its spreading.” Finally, Nostra aetate affirms belief that while God “does not repent of the gifts He makes,” including to the “chosen people,” “the Church is the new people of God.” Its all-but-explicit eschatological vision is one in which all people ultimately find salvation through acceptance of the truth represented by the church. Accordingly, the text’s assertion that achieving “mutual understanding and respect… is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies,” and not only of “fraternal dialogues” and cooperative coexistence, deserves more attention by Jewish readers.
The Holy See and Israel have established diplomatic relations (if rarely convergence on Middle East politics). And successive popes have regularly met with such Jewish organizations as B’nai B’rith, paid tribute at sites where the crimes of the Holocaust occurred (Francis is expected to do so in Poland this July), visited synagogues and made pilgrimages to the Jewish state.
Arguably, Jews should also be better attuned more broadly to the theological framework within which, and the lexicon using which, modern Catholic overtures to Jews have been conducted at the official level. Again, this outreach has been momentous and laudable; the global Jewish community, no less than the Catholic community, can do more to make the genuine progress in relations known to its members; and even any “deficiencies” in the church’s conciliation have been situated primarily in the realm of theoretical belief rather than that of practical engagement. However, while the Vatican has been largely consistent, and uniquely artful, in crafting careful messaging to and about Jews, the nuances of its positions are often lost on Jewish observers keen to take the overtures only at face value.
“Constructive ambiguity” that might be overlooked by master diplomats characterized even some of the celebrated relevant pronouncements of Pope John Paul II, who had an undeniable personal kinship with Jews. For example, his written prayer at the Western Wall in 2000, which spoke of being “deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer… the people of the Covenant,” did not quite spell out the perpetrators and victims to whom he was referring. (Likewise, even Pope Francis’s statement in 2013 that “a true Christian cannot be anti-Semitic” can be interpreted in different ways. Did he mean to absolve all Christians, including senior churchmen across time, of anti-Semitism, or simply that anti-Semitic hatred is incompatible with a faith whose call is to love and whose focal point was a Jew?)
More substantively, was John Paul’s 1987 reference to Jews as “our elder brothers in the faith of Abraham” not merely a moving expression of esteem but an attempt to equate and link the “old” and “new” covenants, or, even more problematically, in keeping with the biblical propensity for younger brothers to have spiritual superiority over their elder ones, a subtle nod to the theology of Christian supersession of Judaism? (Pope Benedict XVI—who himself in 2008 reauthorized a Good Friday liturgy that includes a revised prayer for Jews’ hearts to be “illuminate[d]” so that they “acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men”—wrote in a later book that he chooses to call Jews “fathers in the faith” rather than “elder brothers” in order to allay such concerns.)
In a gesture at the dawn of Catholic-Jewish rapprochement that could similarly be understood in different ways, Pope John XXIII received an American Jewish delegation in 1960 with the stirring words, “I am Joseph, your brother!” The pope—a champion of the reconciliation with Jews who had personally worked to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust, and whose given middle name was the Italian for Joseph—was invoking the story in Genesis in which the youngest of the patriarch Jacob’s first eleven sons is reunited with his long-estranged siblings, but in which Joseph also effectively reveals to them the fulfillment of the prophecy of his privileged station after they had rejected and persecuted him on account of it.
More than a half-century since John XXIII signaled a promising but complex trajectory in Catholic-Jewish ties, the two communities (or one, if you’re a Catholic seeing Judaism as “intrinsic” to the church—a view reflected in the inclusion of its office for relations with Jews within the Vatican’s intra-Christian, not interreligious, affairs wing) continue along this path. By now, interspersed with disputes such as those over papal ties to Kurt Waldheim or Yasser Arafat, sainthood for Edith Stein or the war-era pope Pius XII, a convent at Auschwitz or the taxation status of Catholic assets in the Holy Land, the church has repeatedly denounced anti-Semitism (and, less prominently, anti-Zionism) as a sin. The Holy See and Israel have established diplomatic relations (if rarely convergence on Middle East politics). And successive popes have regularly met with such Jewish organizations as B’nai B’rith, paid tribute at sites where the crimes of the Holocaust occurred (Francis is expected to do so in Poland this July), visited synagogues and made pilgrimages to the Jewish state.
And, in late 2015, following several prior publications on Catholic-Jewish engagement since the adoption of Nostra aetate, the Vatican’s commission on the relationship released a new document, “‘The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable’ (Rom. 11:29): A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations.” The text validates some of the hallmarks of the process of relationship-building between the Catholic and Jewish communities, while also attempting to keep in check what Catholic traditionalists can perceive as theological oversteps emanating from the “reforms” of the Second Vatican Council. The result is that the document confirms, most importantly, that “the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews,” and also disputes the suggestion that “Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God.” At the same time, the document states that “Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews,” albeit “in a humble and sensitive manner,” and that because “God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel, there cannot be different paths or approaches to God’s salvation.” It strongly rejects any “theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ,” saying that this “would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith.”
It is clear, then, that the theological strains that complicate this exceptional interfaith relationship have not vanished. Neither is the relationship free of political tripwire: the Holy See’s recent agreement prematurely recognizing a “State of Palestine” (and one, it is implied, with oversight in Jerusalem), Arab Christian clerics’ mimicking of one-sided Palestinian narratives concerning Israel and Pope Francis’s surprise 2014 photo-op at an imposing section of Israel’s security barrier near Bethlehem are only a few examples. (Francis could perhaps be counted among those world leaders, with longtime Jewish friends, who have maintained friendships with Jews as well as Israel, but who may be less sentimental than some predecessors about that relationship and most personally invested in other “liberal” concerns that now also resonate more with younger constituents.) This said, in how “normal” and well-established the Catholic-Jewish engagement has become, featuring as it does commonalities and differences alike, this relationship may be optimally positioned to model for other communities the possibility of overcoming even the most longstanding of divides, and even those hardened by a religious orientation. At a time when the challenge of “holy war” overshadows international affairs—nearly 15 years following the 9/11 attacks—any cause for hope in the potential for such peacemaking could not be more welcome.
Moreover, as the Jewish community looks this summer to yet another round of proposals in mainline Protestant churches for harming Israel practically—and Israel alone—through economic pressure campaigns, the larger Catholic Church certainly manifests a friendlier interfaith partner.
To be sure, the Catholic orbit, too, is not immune to a skewed, astoundingly simplistic post-1967 view of who in the Arab-Israeli conflict represents “David” and who “Goliath.” As disturbingly, some anti-Israel activists in the Christian world are quick to invoke Jesus’ challenge to “the Pharisees” in their treatment of complex contemporary geopolitics. But Roman Catholicism, characterized by more centralized and cautious decision-making than certain ecumenical counterparts, has solidified ties with the Jewish community on a rather firm footing—undergirded by warm personal relationships and by ongoing channels of communication.
In this sense, the ostensibly modest 1965 document Nostra aetate demonstrates that a start may be only a start, but it can have a profound and lastingly positive impact on what is to follow.
Recently, the Golan Heights has reappeared in the news. The strategic plateau, which Syria used to threaten the Israel’s existence and constantly harassed its communities in the Galilee, was won by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, a defensive war forced upon the Jewish state that ensured its survival. Israel maintained its hold on the vital area despite a massive surprise Syrian attack in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Since that period, the Israeli side of the border has been quiet, and the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has been deployed between the two nations’ forces to observe the ceasefire.
Since the Syrian civil war started five years ago, however, the Syrian side of the Golan has been one of the major warzones between the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups, including the al-Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS. Supporting the Assad government is Hezbollah and the even more menacing forces of Iran, both of which have tried to build a presence on the Syrian side of the Golan from which to attack Israel in the future.
Israel has endeavored before into peacemaking with Syria, under both Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad, an equally brutal dictator. These efforts failed because Syria was unwilling to normalize relations with Israel or to meet Israel’s demands for secure borders.
With this as background, the Golan resurfaced as a news story, not because of any strife on the Israeli side of the plain, but rather because of the civil war in Syria. There has been a renewed international effort for a ceasefire between Assad and some of the rebel groups. Reports came out that, as part of the discussions, world powers would back Syrian claims to the territory. Once again, Israel’s neighbors turn to wanton violence, and the hammer comes down instead on Israel.
The Israeli government convened a cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights and declared that the area would remain under Israeli sovereignty forever, hardly a controversial position for the vast majority of Israelis, given the area’s history and the current political realities. The U.N. Security Council met in response, at the request of rotating members Egypt and Venezuela, and rejected this position.
But whom does the Security Council believe Israel should negotiate with—now or in the future—on the final status of the Golan? The Assad government has never shown any seriousness about making peace with Israel. In any event, the Assad regime is now incredibly weak and reliant on help from Hezbollah and Iran, which are both violently committed to wiping Israel off the map. ISIS and al-Nusra also control large swaths of Syrian territory, but their malicious intentions toward Israel are no different. Syria right now is a failed state and a humanitarian catastrophe. Syria may never be a unified state again, split apart into different regions for different groups. A peace-seeking, unified Syria seems incredibly distant to imagine at this point, if not entirely impossible.
This is the cold reality that we must all face, but not the U.N., which lives in its own politicized reality. At the last U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) session in March, two resolutions relating broadly to Syria passed—one on the ongoing Syrian catastrophe itself, and one on the Golan Heights. Thirty-one countries voted in favor of the anti-Israel resolution on the Golan; none could bring themselves to vote against it. The resolution on the human rights situation in Syria mustered only 27 votes in favor; Algeria, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Russia and Venezuela voted against it.
The U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) is even more disproportionate in its criticism of Israel on this topic. So far, during the ongoing 70th session of the UNGA, there has been one resolution on Syria, and two stand-alone resolutions solely on the Golan (it was also mentioned in numerous other anti-Israel resolutions as well, of course).
Keep in mind that Golan Heights is essentially calm (minus the occasional spillover mortar from the Syrian civil war next door) and Syria is a nightmare, where both government troops and terrorist groups have used chemical weapons and where hundreds of thousands are dead and millions are displaced. Yet, more countries felt comfortable voting to condemn Israel than those that voted to condemn Syria at the HRC, and the UNGA was not satisfied with only one resolution on the Golan while only one resolution is somehow appropriate for the roiling cauldron mere yards away.
The Golan Heights issue is a good illustration of the persistent and deep anti-Israel obsession. This is what we mean when we talk about hypocrisy at the U.N. and how it takes away from focus on dire concerns. It is no accident. Syria and other states want the U.N. to function that way so that their human rights abuses are not the main focus.
Nearly all of the 10 presentations have been made to victims of Palestinian terrorism, and not one of the encounters, usually in their living rooms, was an easy experience. The process begins with a cautious telephone call to broach our intention to make the grant (at least one guardian refused our largess) and set a meeting to hand over the grant check. I made the latest, particularly heartbreaking presentation, last week just before the Passover holiday to Yael Weissman for the benefit of her 7-month old daughter, Neta. Their husband and father, St. Sgt. Tuvia Yanai Weissman (21), was murdered on Thursday, Feb. 18, while trying to protect them and other shoppers from two 14-year old, knife-wielding Palestinian terrorists at the Rami Levy supermarket at Sha’ar Binyamin.
Weissman—a combat sergeant in the IDF’s Nahal Brigade, was on a week-long leave, shopping for the upcoming Shabbat with Yael and Neta when he heard screams from a different aisle. Realizing immediately that a terrorist attack was in progress, Weissman, unarmed, ran to confront the terrorists as other shoppers fled. He was the first to reach the terrorists who had begun their stabbing spree but he was the only victim to die of his wounds. I made the drive to the secluded Binyamin settlement of Ma’aleh Michmas in the quiet, late morning—the Judean Hills were vibrant in the spring sun. With Neta—a sweet, calm, playful infant—embraced in her arms and Yael's older sister, who had just undergone an operation to remove a grown from her head' in the kitchen, Yael told me that she and Yanai were childhood sweethearts who grew up in Michmas, married, and made their home there near both sets of parents. A witness herself to the attack, she vividly remembers every detail as it unfolded. The investigation confirmed that the death toll would have been much higher had Yanai not bravely confronted the terrorists barehanded. She was overwhelmed with the expression of support for her and Neta by B’nai B’rith and other organizations and individuals.
The hardest part of this and my other encounters with these bereaved families is bringing the meeting to an end and continuing with my day’s work, knowing that that while perhaps momentarily buoyed by the expression of care and concern by a major international Jewish organization, I would rejoin my hectic reality while the victims will need to spend a lifetime confronting their loss.
This was the case with previous years' recipients. Laren Sayif’s father, Druze Police Sgt. Zidan Sayif, was killed in November 2014 as he confronted two Palestinian terrorists who were engaging in a gruesome knife and meat cleaver attack on worshipers at the Kehilat B’nai Torah synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. That attack left 24 children without their fathers and, in recognition of the scope of the tragedy, B’nai B’rith used the B’nai B’rith International Emergency Fund to make an exceptional second grant that year to the four children of one of the four victims, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, Chief Warrant Officer Kasahun Baynesian, 39, of Netivot, served in the Northern Brigade of the Gaza Division and was killed during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, along with three other soldiers, when his military jeep was hit with an anti-tank missile fired by a Gazan terrorist squad, which used a cross-border tunnel to infiltrate southern Israel on July 17. He left behind four children—the youngest born after his death. Yossi Shushan was killed on Augusut 20, 2011 by a Grad rocket fired from Gaza and left behind three children. Udi and Ruth Fogel who were murdered, along with three children, in their beds in the settlement of Itamar on Friday night, March 11, 2011. They left three surviving children. These heartbreaking stories repeat themselves for all of the ten victims whose orphans the fund has touched over the years.
The Edith “Pat” Wolfson Endowment Fund has become an expression of caring for the victims of some of the worst terrorist atrocities that have left orphans over the last decade. The B’nai B’rith World Center will continue to execute this difficult and humbling task while seeking ways to maintain a meaningful relationship with those we have touched.
The B’nai B’rith World Center has administered the Edith “Pat” Wolfson Endowment Fund for Israeli Youth since its inception in 2005, with Schneider personally presenting the grant to the orphan’s surviving parent or legal guardian each year. The fund supports Israeli youth orphaned by war or terrorism.
You wouldn't know it from the Human Rights Council -- which ritualistically adopted multiple anti-Israel resolutions last week, yet only lone ones on such scenes of unsurpassed carnage and deprivation as Syria, Iran and North Korea -- but the most elemental human right of Israelis, the right to life, has been denied and threatened in a particularly relentless and vicious way for about half a year now. The council was not even embarrassed to condemn Israel for its possession of, and human rights record on, the strategically vital and essentially tranquil Golan Heights at a time when religious minorities and the U.N.'s own personnel enjoy refuge there from the bloodletting by regime forces and terrorist groups alike across the border in Syria.
In a true manifestation of insult added to injury, and of abdicated political and ethical leadership, apathy in Geneva to Palestinian terrorism comes as little surprise, though, since the United Nations as a whole is all but explicit in its indifference to violence against Israelis -- unless and until Israel responds forcefully, at which point Israel itself is subjected to especially wild opprobrium.
A running compendium by the world body, "UN Response to Acts of Terrorism," lists its reactions to acts of violence against civilians globally -- from France to Lebanon to Mali to Afghanistan to Egypt to Turkey to Belgium and beyond -- and yet manages not to note even a single one of the stabbings, shootings or car rammings that have afflicted innocent Israelis on a near-daily basis over the last six months.
Forget solidarity marches by world leaders, the superimposing of the Israeli flag on social-media profile photos or declarations of "Je suis Jerusalem"; after all, even a fresh target of Islamist terror like Belgium continues to be among those denying Israel any understanding or decency in its voting at the Human Rights Council. Instead, the UN secretary-general recently rationalized Palestinian acts of terror as "human nature" -- and went as far as to respond to the subsequent objections of Israeli leaders by publishing an op-ed castigating them for "lashing out at every well-intentioned critic," among them "Israel's closest friends." When a few weeks ago I accompanied a group of diplomats on a visit to Israel -- one that was illuminating in its revelation of the country as a democratic, pluralistic haven amid upheaval, so humane as to be unassumingly treating wounded arrivals from hostile Syria -- UN officials stationed there did not let reality disrupt their relaying of a well-practiced narrative in which only Palestinians are associated with grievance and only Israelis are saddled with obligations.
For these bureaucrats, Palestinian suffering was worthy of detailing and magnification, while Israeli suffering was minimized or ignored completely. Indeed, with the UN never considering all those Israelis maimed or traumatized in terrorist attacks, the ongoing wave of Palestinian violence, we were told, does not rise to the level of a "political crisis." Meeting the same day with a non-religious Jewish girl and an Orthodox man who had been wounded in horrifying attacks -- by sheer randomness, in different areas that we ourselves had visited in Jerusalem that day, including the vicinity of the UN compound itself -- I found myself growing emotional in decrying the failure of UN data and officialdom to see any "crisis" in an untold number of Israelis whose scars, physical and otherwise, will permanently testify to their neighbors' conviction that their lives are somehow deserving of being brought to a cruel and arbitrary end.
Putting aside cruelty, today's multiplying Palestinian assailants, whose precursors had inaugurated in earnest the era of modern political terrorism, particularly the use of plane hijackings and suicide bombings, have again honed their brutal craft. Following phases dominated by cross-frontier rocket fire, hostage-taking and other tactics, ordinary Palestinians, endlessly incited to violent hatred not only by Hamas but also by the purportedly moderate Fatah, can now harm and terrorize Israelis with little training or resources, and little possibility for a decisive Israeli response. After all, will Israel deny all Palestinians access to steak knives or to automobiles that can then be exploited as weaponry? And whom can Israel effectively confront when any Palestinian youth rifling through a kitchen drawer is a potential perpetrator of warfare? Not least, by anonymously taking cleavers to Israelis one at a time -- without the dramatic footage and gore of ISIS decapitation videos -- Palestinians can broadly victimize Israelis, day after day for months on end, without the world's so much as taking notice, let alone discerning a crisis.
Which is why, if UN officials do actually care about peace in the region or at least about the stated aspirations of mainstream Palestinians, they must finally stop coddling the Palestinians, denying them all sense of responsibility or agency, and insist that they end the crude, ubiquitous incitement against Israel that inevitably results in the deaths of Palestinians.
The UN itself, for that matter, must stop serving as a global purveyor of such incitement.
A senior UN official, explaining in a New York Times essay this month why he was walking away from a long career at the organization, wrote: "If you lock a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again." At the UN, he acknowledged, "too many decisions are driven by political expediency instead of by the values of the United Nations or the facts on the ground." He concluded: "We need a United Nations led by people for whom 'doing the right thing' is normal and expected."
Serial abuse of Israel was not the subject of the former UN official's piece, and -- no surprise, since it is likely the most entrenched and politically untouchable of UN dogmas -- it was nowhere mentioned in it.
However, indifference to and complicity in the deep injustice that is bigotry against Israel are central to the departure of the UN from its intended purposes and from its real potential.
The UN will remain fundamentally corrupt, and most certainly a failure at peacemaking, until it is finally able to treat the deliberate murder of Jews as it does that of others among its constituents.
Despite leading on Gender Equality Issues, Israel is Predictably Bashed by U.N. Commission on the Status of Women
This week the 60th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wrapping up in New York. Diplomats and NGO representatives have come from around the world to discuss gender equality and the fight against gender-based violence and discrimination. But, as is U.N. fashion, only one country will find itself on the agenda. Only one country is worthy of its own report, and only one country will be condemned in a resolution.
Though that country is situated in the Middle East, it is not one of the failed or failing states whose roiling violence is sending refugees fleeing to Europe. Nor is it one of the many dictatorships that oppress the entirety of its population, with a particular emphasis on arcane laws and rules that women must follow or face harsh punishments. There are plenty of good candidates for extra scrutiny on these issues in the Middle East, but CSW has chosen to focus, as it does every year, on Israel, the sole democratic state in the region that guarantees gender equality.
I point out the human rights records of other Middle East countries to illustrate the sheer absurdity of the situation, but Israel’s neighbors provide a low bar to pass. The truth is that on the issue of gender equality, Israel stands at or above its Western democratic peers. Israel was one of the first countries in the world to elect a female leader, Golda Meir. Dorit Beinisch was president of Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice. Women are serving as pilots in Israel’s air force and are securing Israel’s borders in combat roles in co-ed units. Women are making important contributions to Israel’s high-tech, cultural and medical fields. And Israel, in turn, is flourishing because of the freedom enjoyed by all citizens: Jews and Arabs, men and women, religious and secular, LGBT and straight. Of course, there are still many issues of inequality and discrimination and domestic violence that need to be addressed, as there are in every society. Israeli NGOs and a lively and free press, however, can be counted upon to hold the government accountable to continue to push for progress.
The singling-out of Israel at CSW is a symptom of the problem: the unending anti-Israel obsession at the U.N. This obsession produces dozens of General Assembly and Human Rights Council (HRC) resolutions yearly (compared to maybe a handful for the most egregious of abusive countries), an agenda item at the HRC dedicated solely for Israel and another one for all other countries.
The U.N.’s organizational credibility on Middle East issues, already near zero, is eroded even further with each of these biased resolutions, reports, and statements. But the work of vital organs like CSW is also degraded by the double standard imposed on Israel, as it is seen to be politicized.
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. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
I, along with B’nai B’rith Latin America Chair Mario Wilhelm, represented B’nai B’rith at the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Plenary, held in Buenos Aires from March 15 to 17, which gathered 400 delegates from Jewish communities and Jewish international organizations from all over the world. B’nai B’rith is a longstanding member of the WJC governing board.
Attendees witnessed the warmth of the Argentinean government as the host country to the Jewish community and the State of Israel. President Mauricio Macri and Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra were very clear in their statements and reaffirmed the commitment of their government to fight terrorism, to dig deeper into prosecutor Alberto Nisman´s case and to try to find what happened when the Israeli Embassy was bombed in 1992 and when the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building was bombed in 1994.
Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes received the Shalom Award. Cartes did not sign a biased statement of Mercosur during the Gaza war in 2014. Cartes told Mercosur members that Paraguay is against biased statements which are not clear against Hamas terror. Since Cartes has been president, Paraguay has never voted against Israel in the United Nations and its agencies.
Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned vigorously the hate crime in Uruguay against a Jewish community leader in Paysandu, Uruguay and underlined the commitment of OAS to fight all forms of terrorism.
We had the opportunity to talk briefly with Cartes and with Almagro.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett was also keynote speaker at the Plenary. He said very clearly that Israel has all the will to achieve peace, but peace with security and peace with seriousness, not peace with incitement and Hamas terror.
The last day of the meeting there were two events. One, a tribute to AMIA victims in AMIA headquarters and the ceremony of remembrance of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires 24 years ago. Bennett was the keynote speaker in the tribute to those who perished in the bombing of the embassy.
We had a conversation with Argentine Defense Minister Patricia Bullrich about anti-Semitism and the terrorist killing of a Jewish leader in Uruguay. We also had a conversation about anti-Semitism, Nazi pages of hate on the internet and other issues with Argentine Secretary of Human Rights Claudio Avruj.
We had a meeting with Uruguayan Ambassador in Argentina Hector Lezcano, and we mainly talked about the anti-Semitic killing in Uruguay, and the reaction of the government and the civil society. We also talked about the concern of the Argentinean government of the killing in Uruguay and its eventual links in the region.
We had a conversation with Israeli Ambassador in Argentina Dorit Shavit and with Israeli Ambassador in Paraguay Peleg Lewi, who was in the delegation of Cartes.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
In an op-ed for The Times of Israel, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin has returned from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and he can report: It’s business as usual. Agenda Item 7 persists as the only country-specific item, maligning Israel year-in and year-out, while a number of regimes around the world violate their own people’s human rights. While in Geneva, Mariaschin spoke with a number of foreign representatives and diplomats, urging them to say “no” to Item 7.
Click here to read the op-ed on TimesofIsrael.com
It has been business as usual at the U.N. Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva this month.
Here’s why it matters.
Notwithstanding the need for urgent attention to such serial abusers as Syria’s Assad regime, which continues to barrel-bomb its own citizens in the midst of a destructive civil war, and Iran, which most certainly vies for the lead in any number of human rights abuses, including the execution of juvenile offenders, Israel is still singled out for special opprobrium.
If this sounds like a broken record, it is. Each year, all countries up for discussion are lumped together into one agenda item, while Israel is always separated out from the rest for individual scrutiny under Item “7” which applies solely to the Jewish state, the only democracy in the Middle East. Subsumed under that item this year are a basket of separate resolutions, as well as six reports. The resolutions, which make no pretence at being objective, hammer Israel for “the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” settlements, human rights abuses in the Golan Heights and a call for Palestinian self-determination.
The special reports include updates on the infamous Goldstone Commission Report, which was written in the wake of the 2009 Gaza war, and which suggested Israel might be guilty of war crimes. Judge Richard Goldstone, who chaired the group which wrote the report, ultimately backed away from its one-sided findings. In the U.N. system, however, vituperation against Israel has a life of its own, so the report lives on.
What does all of this have to do with the real world in 2016? The Middle East is not only in chaos, it is in meltdown mode in Iraq and Syria. Libya has now become the new ISIS target of opportunity. Iran, soon to be flush with cash from the nuclear deal with the P5+1, sends its Revolutionary Guards to Syria, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that has taken over control of Lebanon, to back the Assad regime. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in this conflict, Christians and Yazidis have been massacred and subject to humiliation, eviction and dispersal, with millions becoming part of the biggest refugee migration in decades.
This situation has received scant attention from a U.N. body “re-formed and reformed” 10 years ago to address real human rights crises. Its 47 members have really done no such thing. It is dominated by countries from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, and something called the Like-Minded Group of Developing Countries, said to represent 50 percent of the world’s population, whose worldview includes protecting many of those countries who are in the first line of human rights abusers.
This session, as a result of membership rotation, the United States is not on the Council. Nevertheless, it has spoken out strongly against the double standard Israel receives at the hands of the members of the body. Neither is Canada, which has been a staunch defender of Israel over the past decade. The EU countries choose not to participate in the debate on Item 7, though several of its member states, critical of Israel, find a way to do so. The EU could act more forcefully against this on-going diplomatic charade, but it refrains from doing that—another example of how its actions often don’t measure up to the values it claims to uphold.
As for the Palestinians it once again proves that, though largely crowded out of the news because of events in the region, their ability to manipulate the U.N. system continues. Whether it was attaining full membership at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), non-member state status at the General Assembly, or getting its flag flown in front of the U.N. in New York and other U.N. venues (including Geneva), they continue to plug away, not feeling any pressure to return to the negotiating table with Israel. And why should they? The Palestinians feel they have the international community’s blindly supportive wind at their back—even at a time when the Middle East neighborhood in which the Palestinians are based, is imploding.
One European diplomat I met in Geneva, after a spirited discussion about how annual denunciations of Israel only embolden the Palestinians and discourage the Israelis, told me point blank that if they were to say “no’ to Item 7, “the Palestinian door would be closed to us.” My rejoinder was that if the EU—which has often been the Palestinians’ friend in court and which has for years funded the salaries of Palestinian Authority (PA) civil servants—really sought to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, they would spend their time urging the PA to move to the negotiating table, rather than allow this yearly lacerating of Israel to continue.
So as the Middle East burns, Nero—in this case—the Human Rights Council, fiddles. An aversion to doubling down on real abusers of human rights, and a propensity to let the anti-Israel rhetoric flow in Item 7 and its accompanying reports, speaks to the hypocrisy and emptiness of the Council and the system that has produced it.
Living in a time where, from our smart phone screens we can learn, real time, about the abuses of human rights everywhere, a global conscience is AWOL. Each day it stays that way, real opportunities to help those who suffer, pass. Instead, at the Human Rights Council and elsewhere, there is always time to unfairly castigate Israel.
What a terrible waste.
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.
Analysis From Our Experts
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: