JNS quoted B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the overturned convictions in the murder of former Wall Street Journal Reporter Daniel Pearl.
(April 3, 2020 / JNS) Jewish and pro-Israel organizations expressed shock and contempt over a Pakistani court on Thursday that overturned the four convictions related to the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl.
Three were handed life sentences, and a fourth, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, was awaiting execution. The Karachi court reduced Sheikh’s sentence to seven years for kidnapping following the hearing of an appeal last month.
“We are deeply saddened and outraged by Pakistan’s acquittal of these psychopathic killers. Daniel Pearl’s father is a close friend of ours. He won CAMERA’s courage award last year. Our hope is that the media gives this harrowing injustice the full attention it deserves,” the organization’s communications director, Jonah Cohen, told JNS.
Pearl’s father, Judea Pearl, blasted the Karachi court’s decision.
“It is a mockery of justice,” he tweeted. “Anyone with a minimal sense of right and wrong now expects Faiz Shah, prosecutor general of Sindh to do his duty and appeal this reprehensible decision to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”
It is unclear if all four will be released immediately. Shah said he would appeal the decision to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The four men will remain behind bars for at least 90 days due to “public safety,” according to a ruling issued by the Home Department of Sindh province.
“We are outraged by the decision of the Sindh High Court in Karachi, Pakistan to acquit Ahmed Omar Sheikh and three others involved in the barbaric murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl [may his memory be for a blessing] in 2002,” said the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in a statement. “It is unconscionable for these barbaric killers to go free.”
“We urge the U.S. government to press the government in Pakistan to reverse this injustice and hold the murderers of an American citizen to account,” added the Conference.
A Twitter post by the U.S. State Department Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, signed with the initials of Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells, read: “The overturning of the convictions for Daniel Pearl’s murder is an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere. We welcome Pakistan’s decision to appeal the verdict. Those responsible for Daniel’s heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice.”
“I find this action of a court filled with Muslim judges releasing Muslim murderers of a Jew to be nothing less than evil barbarism and grotesque Jew-hatred,” Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told JNS. “Polls have shown that well over half the Muslims in that part of the world to be anti-Semitic.”
“This court has just lent more validity to those polls,” he continued. “And the leaders of Pakistan and world and religious leaders are deafeningly silent.”
“The Pakistani court’s decision to free four men found guilty in Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder is an insult to victims of terrorism everywhere,” B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin told JNS. “We call for an immediate reversal of this outrageous verdict."
B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin responded to the festering of anti-Semitism at NYU and on other college campuses, even as colleges shift completely to online learning in The Jerusalem Post.
This is a moment in our lives — and in the history of the planet —when we are supposed to be pulling together to confront a dangerous and unseen enemy. Yet, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, there are still some diehards who have time to engage in spreading another persistent virus: antisemitism.
Such was the case last week when Leen Dweik, the former head of New York University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), tweeted the following in response to the death of 88-year-old Aryeh Even, a survivor of the Holocaust and Israel’s first Coronavirus fatality: “Anyway, should I paint my nails green or red today?”
The response from NYU was quick and unequivocal. Spokesman John Beckham said that “the reported Twitter post by a former NYU student about the first Israeli death from COVID-19 was shameful and callous....NYU denounces such insensitivity; it is at odds with our campus values.”
Jewish groups, including B’nai B’rith, praised the NYU statement, but the dictum “you reap what you sow” comes immediately to mind in looking back at the activities of Dweik and her BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) fellow travelers who made life impossible for pro-Israel Jewish students during their time on campus.
Though colleges have shifted to virtual campuses, the ability for SJP to spread its hate online is perhaps more of a threat.
SJP is an organization with branches on campuses around the country. It exists only to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Its stock vernacular compares Israel to Nazi Germany and says that Israelis are war criminals. Those who support Israel, including Jewish organizations on campus, are considered to be in the same category. Its members bully other students and create an environment of fear for Jewish students and others who have the temerity to support the State of Israel and the Zionist movement which created it.
Last April, SJP at NYU was actually awarded the President’s Service Award, which is “given to students or student organizations that have had an extraordinary and positive impact on the University community, including achievements within schools and departments, the University at large, local neighborhoods, and NYU’s presence in the world.”
Responding to the announcement of its selection for the accolade, SJP noted on its Facebook page that “We are thrilled to announce that we have been selected to receive a presidential service award at NYU...we agree that we have made significant contributions to the University community in areas of learning, leadership, and quality of student life."
Like, making other students feel threatened and unwelcome.
University President Andrew Hamilton, who has spoken out against the BDS movement, was not present for the ceremony. But the award was bestowed anyway.
A year ago, a complaint was filed with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by an NYU student who charged that the university tolerated “extreme antisemitism” to fester on campus, and looked the other way at the “hostile atmosphere” for Jewish students. The complaint asked whether the university had “responded appropriately” to the incidents in question.
The student who brought the complaint said in an interview with Fox News that Jewish students felt “threatened and targeted...the Administration essentially told me that they were supportive of the Jewish community, but that no concrete actions could be taken against SJP.”
She went on to describe incidents in which pro-Israel students were manhandled by other students at a celebration of Israel’s independence in Washington Square Park. In response to a call for disciplining the students, “NYU told me not to post on social media and to lower my own presence and the presence of my community instead of addressing a group that has harassed a minority population.”
Dweik’s Students for Justice in Palestine had been at the forefront of this reign of intimidation. It was Dweik who confronted Chelsea Clinton at an NYU event held in response to the killing of 49 people in a terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Clinton had called out Rep. Ilhan Omar for anti-Semitic comments made earlier.
“This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you....Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there, ” Dweik said.
The egregious NYU example is only one of many involving SJP and similar organizations on campuses around the country. The list is a long one and includes both state universities and prestigious private colleges. Oftentimes, like-minded faculty members aid and abet the student organizations in inciting against Israel and its supporters.
College administrators, too willing to tolerate intimidation of segments of the campus community and leery of charges of not protecting academic freedom, have too often ignored, neglected or looked the other way in confronting this atmosphere of hate. Too many are willing to parse what constitutes antisemitism, leaning instead on the protestations of campus groups that they are only engaging in “legitimate criticism of Israel.”
Meanwhile, the problem of indulging such behavior has not only festered, it has grown apace.
Seeing this snowball into a critical mass of antisemitism, the US Justice Department convened a conference on antisemitism in July of 2019. Among others, its program featured Attorney General William Barr, as well as a group of experts who focused on antisemitism on campus. It gave the issue a national focus that heretofore was sorely lacking.
And in December of last year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order bringing protection from discrimination — and antiemitism — to Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The umbrella of protection had, until that point, covered students based on race, national origin and ethnicity — but not Jews.
The order not only rectified a glaring omission in the law, but put the full force of the federal government behind efforts to combat campus antisemitism and in the process, offer some measure of reassurance to Jewish students and their families that, even if college administrators were failing to act, there was not only a mechanism to bring complaints, but a law in place to impose penalties for those institutions that allowed this activity to occur.
Leen Dweik’s repulsive tweet on Aryeh Even’s tragic death from COVID-19 speaks for itself. Her hatred of Israelis, Israel and its supporters knows no bounds, even to the point of making a sarcastic comment about the passing of a survivor of the Holocaust in the midst of a raging pandemic.
But Dweik, and those on campuses just like her, have engaged in this kind of hate speech under the gaze of university administrators everywhere for years. Hate speech is not free speech, especially that which intimidates, threatens or incites against students for supporting and advocating what they believe in.
It is relatively easy to connect the dots from the hate speech of Dweik and her crowd, to a tweet that smugly dismisses the death of an 88-year-old Israeli. Not only does she lack basic decency at a time where every human being is at risk, but she continues to harbor unbridled hatred. For far too long, students have had to check their Zionism at the door for fear of the SJP retaliation. Had she and others been reined in earlier, had she been firmly told that she had crossed red lines, that fellow students who are passionate about Israel have as much right as she does to hold their views, she might have learned that free speech does indeed have limits.
The NYU statement on Dweik was welcome, and perhaps not too late. Let’s hope, in the middle of our intense focus on the coronavirus, it was not lost on college administrators everywhere.
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles covered B'nai B'rith’s launch of a special emergency fund to help communities around the world respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
B’nai B’rith International announced in a March 19 press release that it’s launching an emergency fund to provide aid against the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the press release, B’nai B’rith is diverting $10,000 from the organization’s Disaster Relief Fund toward the cause.
“The funds we raise will go to international assistance to help struggling communities around the world,” the press release states. “As an international organization, we will work with our members and supporters across the globe to determine the most urgent needs and best meet them.”
The Journal’s Debra Nussbaum Cohen previously reported on how various Jewish free loan associations are ramping up efforts to make capital available to small businesses that are adversely affected during social distancing as well as to those who are having trouble paying medical bills. Some, such as San Francisco’s Hebrew Free Loan Association (HFLASF), are offering interest-free loans of up to $10,000.
“By offering this type of support, it provides the financial help people will desperately need right now, and also gives everyone who hears about it a sense of emotional support — that there are agencies willing to provide this kind of relief,” HFLASF Executive Director Cynthia Rogoway told Cohen.
Jewish, Pro-Israel Groups Protest Bernie Sanders’ Hiring of Adviser Who Once Denounced Zionism as ‘Racist, Exclusionary Ideology’
The Algemeiner quoted B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and President Charles O. Kaufman in its coverage of the hiring of an advisor with a history of anti-Semitic comments to the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Jewish and pro-Israel groups on Tuesday condemned Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ decision to hire a radical activist with a long history of vitriolic anti-Israel statements as a senior adviser.
Phillip Agnew, a co-founder of the Dream Defenders group, was hired as a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign last Saturday, with Sanders saying, “He is a gifted organizer and one of his generation’s most critical voices on issues of race and inequity.”
B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin took a different view, saying in a statement on Tuesday, “We call on presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to terminate his campaign’s relationship with Phillip Agnew.”
“Agnew’s activist organization, Dream Defenders, has promoted to children the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has been a US-designated terrorist organization since 1997,” they noted, “and is a proponent of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
“Agnew’s so-called ‘rebellion curriculum,’ which is aimed at children in 6th to 11th grade, refers to Israel as ‘occupied Palestine’ and speaks approvingly of the goals of creating a communist party and liberating ‘Palestine,’” they pointed out.
“It is unacceptable that someone with this history of antisemitic and pro-terrorism statements was given a role on any presidential campaign,” they asserted.
The Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) also weighed in, asking, “How can @BernieSanders unify the country when he appoints officials to his campaign who spew hateful, misogynist, and bigoted views? And why does Sanders refuse to disassociate himself even from their hateful statements?”
Agnew’s defamatory attitude toward the Jewish state is not new. In a June 2015 article in Ebony, Agnew described a trip to what he called “Palestine,” saying, “What I saw there was cold, calculating racism and ethnic privilege masquerading as a Jewish State.”
Referring to then-President Barack Obama’s comparison of Zionism to the US civil rights movement, Agnew claimed Zionism was a “racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology; its eagerness to attack and silence detractors is only matched by its eagerness to co-opt the struggles of Blacks in this country (by a Black in this country) for its own survival.”
In a 2012 tweet, he stated, “America continues to support the murderous occupation of Palestine. Today’s ‘Zion’ is Hell on Earth for millions.”
Agnew has also shown an intense anti-Americanism in his statements, tweeting in 2016, “America is hate-founded, hate-legislated, hate-sponsored, hate-endorsed, hate-filled.”
Referring to a radical Islamist’s homophobia-motivated shooting attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, Agnew said, “Just clarifying who to blame. It isn’t radical Islam and it wasn’t those people in the club. It is us. We spread this hate.”
He also appears to be a believer in 9/11 conspiracy theories, saying on Sept. 10, 2010, “Tomorrow America remembers the day that she turned on herself, dismantled her constitution, and killed her own citizens in the name of money.”
Agnew also caused controversy for sexist tweets against former First Lady Michelle Obama, tweeting in 2009, “Michel [sic] Obama is an odd looking woman… I’d call her ugly but I don’t want the backlash.”
He subsequently tweeted, “Michelle Obama is just not pretty… I’ve tried to look at her from every angle possible.”
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the Bernie Sanders campaign's recent hiring of a senior adviser who has made anti-Semitic statements.
(March 10, 2020 / JNS) The Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has named Phillip Agnew, who has called Zionism “racist,” and co-founded a group that supports the anti-Israel BDS movement and a U.S.-designated terrorist group, a senior adviser.
“I am excited to welcome Phillip to our team,” said Sanders in a statement on Saturday. “He is a gifted organizer and one of his generation’s most critical voices on issues of race and inequity. He has and will continue to push me and this movement to deliver on what is owed to black people who have yet to experience reciprocity in this country.”
Agnew previously served as a surrogate for the campaign and is a co-founder of Dream Defenders, which has ties to Ahmad Abuznaid, a supporter of the U.S.-designated terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Founded in 2012, Dream Defenders exemplifies the trend of black anti-Semitism in the United States.
The organization has labeled Israel as a “continued settler colonial project” whose treatment of the Palestinians is similar to an “apartheid” nation. Without acknowledging Hamas launching rockets from schools and other civilian centers from Gaza into Israel, while using women and children as human shields, Dream Defenders has accused Israel of developing “its latest military weaponry by attacking the civilian population of Gaza.”
Agnew, who now goes by the name Umi Selah, has participated in multiple trips to the disputed territories over the past few years, led by Abuznaid, who claimed that these delegations are to “build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation.”
During a January 2015 trip, Dream Defenders met with Omar Barghouti, founder of the BDS movement, and Diana Buttu, who served in the Palestine Liberation Organization during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, when the PLO perpetrated attacks against Israelis on buses, and in restaurants and other public places. The delegation also met with artist Ayed Arafah in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, which is recognized as a PFLP camp.
In a 2015 article in Ebony, Agnew wrote, “There is no direct line from Zionism to the Black Freedom struggle. No rhetorical imagination-acrobatics can conjure one, and no amount of intimidation can chart one. It is a racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology.”
Although Agnew apologized on Sunday for tweeting in 2009 what he called “stupid comments” about former first lady Michelle Obama, though he did not address his anti-Israel past.
Agnew is part of what critics have said is a group of Sanders surrogates who use anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), former Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, and comedian and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Professor Amer Zahr.
The Zionist Organization of America has called for Sanders to fire Agnew.
The Republican Jewish Coalition stated that Agnew’s new role exemplifies a trend in the Sanders campaign and that the senator’s main rival, while he may not need them to get the Democratic presidential nomination, will need supporters like Agnew in order to defeat the incumbent president.
“Every step of the way, Bernie Sanders has embraced anti-Israel, anti-Semitic surrogates because that is the support he needs to win the Democrats’ left wing base,” RJC spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS. “Joe Biden might not need these supporters to win the nomination, but Sanders is proving that Biden will need this racist crowd’s support in order to drive the vote up in his base if he wants any shot at beating the most pro-Israel president in history, Donald Trump.”
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin said “it is unacceptable that Phillip Agnew, with his long history of anti-Semitic and pro-terrorism statements, should be given a role within any presidential campaign.”
“In his statement naming Agnew as an adviser, Sanders called Agnew an expert on race and inequity,” he continued. “It is possible to address social inequity in this country without espousing anti-Israel vitriol. We’ve called on the campaign to terminate its relationship with Agnew.”
“Sadly, Senator Sanders has a bad, but very steady habit of giving senior positions in his campaign to people with long records of expressing anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic views,” Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman told JNS.
Similar to British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, he added, “I think he is going to find out that it’s not only immoral, but it’s also bad politics.”
JNS: Jewish organizations commended the Bulgarian government for preventing an annual neo-Nazi march in the country’s capital of Sofia from taking place last weekend. The annual torch-lit Lukov march is named after Bulgarian Gen. Hristo Lukov, founder of the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions movement, which supported the deportation to Treblinka of more than 11,000 Jews from territories controlled by Bulgaria in Macedonia, northern Greece and eastern Serbia ...
"The court decision, as well as the cooperation of senior Bulgarian government officials, is a victory for the Bulgarian Jewish community,” said B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in a statement on Tuesday. Read the full story in JNS
“We are writing to express our heartfelt solidarity with you during these tense and troubling times.” That is part of an open letter B'nai B'rith and other Jewish groups sent to Chinese people around the world in response to the Coronavirus.
The letter, issued in English and Chinese, notes: “We know from history, ours and yours, that such fearmongering can be devastating.”
Click here to read the story in The Algemeiner
B'nai B'rith Director of EU Affairs Alina Bricman published an op-ed in The EU Observer on the anti-Semitism on display at Belgium's Aalst Carnival.
This weekend (Sunday, 23 February), was the day of the yearly carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst.
For the Jewish community, this day approached with a lot of anxiety. In the 2019 edition, a float depicting exaggerated images of Orthodox Jews, with enlarged hooked noses, bags of money and surrounded by rats caused international outrage, and resulted in the delisting of the Aalst festival from Unesco's intangible heritage list – a first in the international body's history.
The whole protracted episode left Jewish advocacy and community organisations on one side and officials in Aalst on the other in an antagonist relationship, where regrettably public authorities in Aalst failed to understand the charges brought and to take responsibility accordingly and Jewish organisations were left warning of the dangers of the 2020 edition.
And the 2020 edition came and went: Jews portrayed as insects, people wearing fake ultra-Orthodox costumes, crass comments about circumcision and the Wailing Wall, uniforms resembling Nazi attire labelled Unestapo - a play on the word 'Gestapo', the secret police of the Nazis, and the mayor of Aalst, Christophe D'Haese, of the right-wing New Flemish Alliance, essentially insisting: Nothing wrong here.
And here in lies the problem: more disturbing – I think – than the displays themselves is the clear sense that locals don't understand what the issue is.
Following the backlash over last year's edition, the festival made it a nearly explicit purpose to poke the Jewish community, to exhibit its discontent for any international reactions and to instigate even more vehement responses from the Jewish community which it deemed oversensitive and unwilling to take a joke.
This approach found support among politicians as well: much like D'Haese, minister-president of Flanders Jan Jambon claimed that while people abroad may not understand it, the Aalst festival did not include anti-semitic manifestations.
Rather, it makes fun of everything and everyone.
Grain of salt
You may want to take that with a grain of salt: Jambon has a history of association with the far-right, be it through support of former Flemish Nazi collaborators, or affinity to members of the forbidden extreme right-wing paramilitary organisation Vlaamse Militanten Orde, and the Vlaams Blok extreme-right political party.
Jewish organisations – as well as many allies, be they public authorities, anti-discrimination bodies or civil society – have started to react and will continue to do so.
From calls for the EU to sanction Belgium to bans on the festival itself, the proposed remedies come in many forms and degrees of severity.
They may be warranted, and in search for a quick fix, they may do the surface trick, but unfortunately there's no easy solution to do away with the underlying problem in Aalst.
Prejudices are deeply-rooted; the lack of knowledge about the Jewish community; the lack of empathy and understanding for the other; the inability to see one's own biases; the missing opportunities for exchange - they have no easy fix. The problem in Aalst requires that we look well beyond Aalst.
As reactions mount in the coming days, I hope that they not only address the immediate need to prevent such displays in the future, but bring solutions to tackle their root causes. In its thoughtful and reserved approach in the past days, the organised Jewish community of Belgium has been a goodwill partner, open to be part of a constructive solution and to work with authorities both local and national to ensure a public space free of hatred and bigotry, where the Jewish community, like all communities, can leave in a welcoming and inclusive society.
Hopefully it will have others at the table.
The Jerusalem Post included a quote from B'nai B'rith President Charles O. Kaufman in its coverage of anti-Semitic elements at a parade in Aalst, Belgium.
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
“Belgium as a Western democracy should be ashamed to allow such a vitriolic antisemitic display,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Thursday. “I call upon the authorities there to condemn and ban this hateful parade in Aalst.”
Ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon has been outspoken against the parade.
“It is a great pity that such an antisemitic carnival is allowed,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Aalst is the only city in Europe where such a carnival is allowed. We call upon Belgian authorities, including city authorities of Aalst, to change their mind. We still have [time] until the carnival and hope reason will prevail and the antisemitic floats will be taken away.”
If the parade goes as planned, “it will be a moral blot on Belgium,” Nahshon said.
“The fight against antisemitism is also an Israeli fight,” he said. “Israel has to be very clear on the issue.”
The Aalst carnival lost its place on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2019 after its mayor refused to remove antisemitic imagery from the parade.
This year’s parade is expected to specifically target Jews for mockery because of the controversy and loss of the carnival’s UNESCO status.
The carnival has long been a site of bigoted displays in general, including participants in blackface and displays mocking Muslims, and usually of specifically antisemitic imagery. In 2013, JTA reported carnival revelers in Nazi uniforms held canisters labeled “Zyklon B” while walking with other participants dressed as concentration camp prisoners.
While several Belgian officials have spoken out against the parade, no government action has been taken against it. One reason for this is the rise of Vlaams Belang, a far-right populist party with neo-Nazi roots, and a concern that banning the antisemitic floats will play into their hands.Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever, whose city has a large Jewish community, said last month the parade “shows a lack of empathy” and is “disrespectful.”
President of B’nai B’rith International Charles Kaufman said that "the antisemitic imagery in the Aalst Festival is demeaning and disgraceful. It disgraces the community and Belgium. It is not free speech; it is hate speech and, as a matter of respect and dignity, it should be disallowed.""Some people may view the imagery as good fun, but the determining factor is that the caricatures are images that incite hate and violence. How do we know? It is proven by history, actual events. Shame," Kaufman added.
Though Belgium – with a population of about 11,000,000 – has some 30,000 Jews, the Jewish community it is not planning any demonstrations against the carnival. One source said they are worried about calling negative attention to themselves and possibly provoking violence by going against the dominant culture.
In addition, a legal fight against the parade would be a challenge. According to Belgian law, one can only be indicted for racial incitement if he or she targeted and harmed a specific person.
Earlier this week, three Belgian professors who are experts in antisemitism, Vivian Liska, Didier Pollefeyt and Klaas Smelik, wrote in a much-quoted De Morgen op-ed that the media should not display the antisemitic images from the parade.
“We do not want to commit censorship, but we do want to point out the danger of spreading this type of anti-Jewish caricature,” Smelik said on Belgium’s Radio 1. “In the past, it has become apparent what kind of influence they can have on the opinions of ordinary people.”
European Jewish Press editor Yossi Lempkowicz this week said Aalst is near Kazerne Dossin, a transit camp from which the Nazis deported more than 25,000 Jews and Roma.
“Education against stereotypes is crucial to combating antisemitism and racism in general,” he wrote in the Brussels daily La Libre. “What example does this Aalst festival give to the young people who come by the hundreds to such events?”
In December, Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese of the Flemish nationalist N-VA Party said the parade mocks many different groups and should not be censored.
“We are neither antisemitic nor racist, and anyone who says that is acting in bad faith,” he said.
The Times of Israel covered B'nai B'rith's participation in a commemorative event at the U.N. for WWII-era Philippines President Manuel Quezon, who helped create a safe haven for Jewish refugees in his country.
In the late 1930s, Philippines president Manuel Quezon welcomed over 1,200 Jews from Germany and Austria into an unlikely haven in the Pacific archipelago. With his Open Doors policy, even as most nations closed their doors to Jewish refugees, these Jews — who came to be known as “Manilaners” — escaped Hitler’s growing menace and reached the Philippine capital.
Were it not for interference by the United States government, however, there could have been thousands more rescued Jews.
Philippine ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial told The Times of Israel via telephone that while Quezon had wanted to bring tens of thousands of Jews to the Philippines and permanently settle them on the island of Mindanao, his efforts were stymied by the US government, who limited him to accept 1,000 Jews a year, over a 10 year period.
The little-known rescue was commemorated on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the United Nations in New York, as well as at the Philippine embassy’s recently inaugurated cultural center in Tel Aviv, the Balai Quezon. The organizers of both events included Philippine diplomatic missions and B’nai B’rith.
Jews rescued by Quezon contributed their perspectives — among them, Max Weissler in Israel and Ralph Preiss in New York. Weissler recently celebrated his 90th birthday; Preiss will turn 90 later this year.
In a phone conversation with The Times of Israel, Weissler called the Open Doors narrative “something that must be remembered.”
A new feature film, “Quezon’s Game,” may help cement the initiative’s place in history. Tel Aviv attendees got a sneak-peek at clips from the film, which is directed by Philippine-based Jewish filmmaker Matthew Rosen, who was on hand for the showing. They also saw the 2020 documentary, “The Last Manilaners,” directed by Nico Hernandez. Guests at the UN watched clips from a 2012 documentary by Filipino filmmaker Noel Izon, “An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines.”
The films build upon past remembrance efforts, such as Manilaner Frank Ephraim’s book, “Escape to Manila.”
The genesis of “Quezon’s Game” came when filmmaker Rosen, a UK native who relocated to the Philippines in the 1980s, noticed that his Filipina wife, Lorena Rosen, knew the words to “Hava Nagila” and that local children could sing it, but none knew its origins. This prompted him to make some inquiries at a local Manila synagogue and its museum beginning in 2009.
“I thought the story was amazing,” Rosen said, but “what was more amazing than that story” was how “nobody knew [about it], not even my wife or most Filipinos.”
Asked why there was hardly any recollection, he replied, “It’s an excellent question. I have no answer. It’s why I felt I had to make [the film].”
“Quezon’s Game” was recently screened in the US after having garnered 25 international film festival awards. Matthew and Lorena Rosen co-wrote the original script. Their son, Dean Rosen, collaborated with Janice Y. Perez to turn it into a screenplay. Dean Rosen also composed the original music, which incorporates songs written by concentration camp victims. Several Manilaners, including Weissler, share reflections during the credits.
‘Quezon’s Game’ director Mathew Rosen. (Courtesy of ABS-CBN Films)“One of the most common [reactions to the film] by rabbis and Jewish communities is, ‘I had no idea,’” said Rosen, who with “Quezon’s Game” made his feature film directorial debut. “For me, it makes me feel more necessary to do [this], to tell the Jewish community that the Philippines stuck out a helping hand when they really needed it.”
In “Quezon’s Game,” the protagonist is portrayed by Filipino actor Raymond Bagatsing, whom Rosen describes as “really brilliant” in the role. Bagatsing’s Quezon strives for Philippine independence from the US — which governed the former Spanish colony as a commonwealth — and is a devoted family man to his wife Aurora and their daughter Baby. He also has a penchant for cigars.
In real life, Rosen said, Quezon befriended five brothers from a Jewish cigar manufacturing family, the Frieders. In the film, one of the brothers, Alex Frieder, learns in a telegram that the Germans are making death camps for Jews. He urges Quezon to offer a haven for Jews wishing to flee Europe.
Quezon requests thousands of visas from the US government, but he faces anti-Semitism in the State Department, personified by a composite character, a consul named Cartwright. Other Americans in the Philippines support Quezon’s proposal: high commissioner Paul McNutt, a former Indiana governor; and future Allied commander-in-chief and US president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was at the time a military aide.
Eisenhower is absent from most of the literature by Jews who got to the Philippines, Rosen said. “Because he left before the Japanese arrived, these accounts kind of drop him from the whole process, which is quite a shame… If you study the Frieders, Quezon, look at Filipino history, he was very much involved with it,” Rosen said.
As for the high commissioner, he said, “I really feel Paul McNutt needs a movie of his own. He was really a very great man … It was lucky for Quezon that he was [high commissioner] at the time.”
Obstacles towards freedom
Quezon faced internal opposition to his refugee plan within the Philippines. “The people were friendly, the politicians were worried,” NY-based rescued Jew Ralph Preiss told The Times of Israel. “Quezon had to do this at his own political disadvantage. The opposition party certainly was against it.”
Quezon’s health also hindered his ability; he was battling a relapse of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him while convalescing at Saranac Lake, New York, in 1944 — two years before Philippine independence following World War II.
Philippine ambassador to Israel Imperial told The Times of Israel that at the commemorative event in Tel Aviv, he tried to emphasize “the importance of Quezon’s focus, his humanitarianism and the fact he simply wanted to do the right thing in order to save as many Jewish people [as possible].”
According to Imperial, the real-life Quezon wanted to bring tens of thousands of Jews to the Philippines and permanently settle them on the island of Mindanao.
Ten-year-old Jewish refugee George Lowenstein (standing at mic), who arrived in the Philippines as a toddler, attends a bar mitzvah celebration in 1945 in his new country. (Courtesy of George Lowenstein)“Unfortunately, the Americans rejected the idea,” he said, adding that a compromise figure of 10,000 was reached — 1,000 visas over 10 years — but the Japanese invasion of the Philippines brought the program to “an abrupt end.”
Imperial said that the number of Jews saved by Quezon is between 1,200 and 1,300. “There is no exact figure,” he said.
Rosen lists the number as 1,226: 1,200 off the boat and 26 refugees from Shanghai before the Japanese invasion. But he estimated that “nearly 100 more [found] their own way here, escaped on their own.”
“He put them on his land,” Rosen said, referring to part of the presidential home in Marikina. “He actually [saved] a few more than [Oskar] Schindler.”
Preiss recalled his own journey to the Philippines as an eight-year-old from Rosenberg, Germany.
“We should have been away already before Kristallnacht, but the visas never arrived,” said Preiss, who lost family and friends in the Holocaust. “The US State Department held up everything until January 1939… We were ready to go to the Philippines since July 1938. We didn’t get to [go] until March 1939.”
His father left first. Then he and his mother endured a three-week sea voyage via the Suez Canal, Bombay, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), Hong Kong and finally Manila.
“Mr. [Alex] Frieder welcomed us,” said Preiss, who recounted getting an autograph from Quezon. Asked what he remembers about Quezon, Preiss replied, “Just that he was a nice, kind man … He helped people. That’s all I really knew about him at the time.”
Weissler arrived two years later. Like Preiss, his father had gone first, then he followed with his mother. A policeman had warned his family to leave their home near Breslau, Germany (today Wroclaw, Poland). Their original destination was Denmark but they were denied entry, and eventually changed course to the Philippines — Weissler’s father by boat and Weissler and his mother on a route including a train trek through Siberia and Manchuria. Eleven-year-old Weissler arrived on February 7, 1941.
“We had a community, we had a synagogue, we had a rabbi, a cantor,” Weissler said. He interacted with Filipino peers. “Kids looked at me and thought I was an American,” he recalled. “Then they thought I was Spanish. Finally they figured out I only spoke German.” He learned their language of Tagalog. “For kids, it’s easy to pick up languages,” he said.
War came when Japan invaded the Philippines. The Japanese occupiers surprised some of the Jews by favorably looking upon their German passports, according to Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, who participated in the Tel Aviv commemoration. Yet Preiss said that 85 Manilaners were killed during liberation. He characterizes the occupation as a grim period.
“The bridges were blown,” Preiss said. “We couldn’t communicate.” And, he said, “We fled for three months before the Americans liberated us.”
Weissler said that his Manila home was burned, and that his best friend Peter Mintz was slain by the Japanese. “The name ‘Peter Mintz’ will always remain with me,” he said.
Weissler witnessed the notorious Bataan Death March of American prisoners of war. He said he saw the death march “from the beginning to the end” on Manila’s Dewey Boulevard.
Imperial said that Manila itself was the second-most devastated city of WWII after Warsaw.
In the postwar years, Weissler and Preiss each ended up leaving the Philippines. Weissler worked on a Philippine ship, and wound up in Japan, where he fell in love with a seventh-generation Israeli named Esther and relocated to Israel. Max and Esther Weissler have been married for 64 years and have two children — Danny in Israel and Tova in Washington, DC. Weissler’s name is inscribed on the Open Doors monument to Quezon in Rishon LeZion, first exhibited to the public in 2009.
Preiss helped fundraise for the monument, which was made in the Philippines and transported to Israel. He now lives in the US with his wife Marcia. They have four daughters and for each of their weddings, their daughters have used their mother’s original wedding dress made in the Philippines.
From almost 1,300 Manilaners have come 8,000 descendants — reflecting the continuing legacy of Quezon’s heroism.
“Of course we all talk about it at home,” Preiss said. “In the Jewish community, we’re all very grateful that he saved us.”
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