JNS.org cited B'nai B'rith International in its coverage of the Israeli government's action that bars leading individuals in organizations that support the BDS movement from entering Israel. B'nai B'rith International's statement noted, "Israel is under no obligation to hold the door open for anyone, or any organization that attempts to harm the state."
Leaders of several major American Jewish organizations have told JNS that they are supporting the Israeli government’s decision to prevent the entry of foreign citizens who promote boycotts of Israel.
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs on Jan. 7 released a preliminary list of 20 foreign organizations whose “central figures” will not be permitted to enter Israel because they have undertaken “significant, ongoing and consistent harm to Israel through advocating boycotts.” There are six American groups on the list, including the American Friends Service Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Students for Justice in Palestine and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson told JNS that until now, she has been traveling to Israel “approximately once a year, and those trips are usually a mix of personal visits and JVP work.” Vilkomerson said the Israeli government “has not been in touch with us in terms of how they define JVP leadership,” so it is not clear if the ban will apply only to JVP’s senior staff or also to its other arms, such as its Academic Advisory Council.
Vilkomerson said there are “over 900 people on the [council],” but she declined to provide a list of their names. In the past, JVP press releases that mentioned the council stated that “the full list is available upon request.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy told JNS that the determination regarding exactly who will be prevented from entering will be based on whether an individual engages in “ongoing, consistent, and significant action to promote the boycott, with each case being judge on its own merits.” The spokesperson said an inter-ministerial team is still in the process of “formulating the criteria for implementation of the legislation,” with a final list of banned organizations likely to be released in March.
JVP’s Vilkomerson described the Israeli ban as “bullying.” That characterization was challenged by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who told JNS, “For JVP to complain about ‘bullying’ is the height of hypocrisy given their tactics.” He was referring to incidents in which JVP activists reportedly have harassed pro-Israel speakers.
Protesters compare President Donald Trump's proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall to Israel's West Bank security fence at a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) demonstration in New York City last September. Credit: JVP via Facebook.
According to a memo issued by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), JVP members at last year’s Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City confronted a group of pro-Israel LGBTQ marchers, “cutting their microphones and blocking them from marching.” The ADL also said JVP supported the expulsion of pro-Israel participants from last year’s Chicago Dyke March on the grounds that their rainbow flags resembled Israeli flags, which JVP said represented “racism and violence.” Also, according to the ADL, “JVP members have shouted down and interrupted campus speeches by guests whom they consider too Zionist.”
A number of leading Jewish organizations have expressed support or understanding for the Israeli government’s Jan. 7 decision.
AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman told JNS that while his organization does not take public positions on the Israeli government’s internal policy decisions, “Every state has a right to determine who enters its borders, and the government of Israel has explained that its bar is limited to those who plan ‘material action’ against the Jewish state.”
“Israel is under no obligation to hold the door open for anyone, or any organization that attempts to harm the state,” B’nai B’rith International said in a statement to JNS. “The threat posed by BDS supporters goes well beyond mere policy criticism.”
Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress in North America, said, “The groups on Israel’s list of BDS promoters totally undermine any prospect for peace by fostering hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism, which leads to violence and the endangerment of Israeli citizens.”
When the Knesset last year gave preliminary approval to a law restricting the entry of foreign BDS advocates, the ADL and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) expressed disapproval. When contacted by JNS this week for their position on the new government decision—which is more limited than the Knesset bill because it specifically names 20 groups, rather than being a blanket ban—both the ADL and AJC did not respond.
Left-of-center groups, meanwhile, strongly criticized the Israeli government’s move. Americans for Peace Now asserted in a press release that “boycotts are a legitimate form of peaceful, political expression, which must be protected in any democracy.” It warned that the Israeli decision “increases the isolation of Palestinians living under occupation” and could lead to “the specter of Jews—or non-Jews—being interrogated about their political beliefs at Ben Gurion Airport.”
But the Strategic Affairs Ministry spokesperson told JNS that the new regulations “explicitly exclude political criticism of Israel as a criterion for consideration in naming an organization.”
In an interview with JNS, Paul Scham, president of Partners for Progressive Israel, argued that “calling BDS ‘economic terrorism’ is simply demagoguery,” because in his view, “there is no plausible connection between the presence of a BDS activist and Israeli security.”
Leaders of organizations representing Reform and Conservative Judaism declined to comment on the Israeli government decision, while Orthodox groups were supportive of the move. A spokesman for the Orthodox Union (OU) told JNS, “The OU’s position on this, as with a wide range of other decisions made by the Israeli leadership, is to defer to the decisions of the duly elected democratic government of the State of Israel.”
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, which represents several hundred Orthodox rabbis nationwide, said, “It is routine for democratic countries to ban foreign nationals who wish to harm it. it would be irresponsible for a nation not to engage in elementary self-preservation. The goal of BDS is to destroy Israel, and it is prudent for Israel to respond as it has.”
Section 212 of the current U.S. immigration law authorizes the exclusion of foreign citizens who are suspected of intending to engage in “any activity” related to “sabotage” of the government. It also prohibits the entry of anyone who “endorses of espouses terrorist activity,” even if they are not involved in actual terrorism.
Restrictions on admission to the U.K. are even broader. Section 2 of the relevant British law states that a foreigner can be prevented from entering the country if the authorities decide that “the applicant’s character, conduct or associations” make it “undesirable” to grant entry.
The Times of Israel: How Artist Beat ‘Foolproof’ Nazi System to Forge Dutch ID Papers, Save 350 Lives
The Times of Israel cited the awarding of the "Jewish Rescuers' Citation" by B'nai B'rith International to Alice Cohn, a Jewish artist whose fake ID cards saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust.
During the years in which 102,000 Dutch Jews were murdered by the Nazis, a German-born Jewish artist helped rescue hundreds of children from the clutches of genocide.
As an expert forger of identity papers, Alice Cohn worked with a Utrecht-based resistance group while in hiding. Their production of so-called “wild papers,” including ID and ration cards, saved up to 350 Jewish children from the Nazis. During the war’s final year, Cohn’s handiwork helped prevent young Dutch men from being sent to Germany as forced laborers.
Cohn’s story and the saga of Dutch identity cards during World War II are currently on display at the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam. The temporary exhibit opened in October, and is based on items from the personal archive of Cohn, who died in 2000.
According to the museum, one motivation for highlighting Cohn’s efforts was to help correct the “prevailing, but incorrect, image that Dutch Jews had a passive role during the war.” During the Holocaust, 102,000 Dutch Jews — the majority of the community — were murdered at Nazi-built death camps and elsewhere in the Reich.
Born in Breslau in 1914, Cohn studied cabinet-making until the Nazis came to power in 1933. When Jewish students were banned from taking exams or submitting final projects, she moved to Berlin for a year of school in graphic arts. The situation for German Jews continued to deteriorate, so Cohn fled to the Netherlands in search of a secure future.
Settling in Amsterdam on a student visa, Cohn learned Dutch and received commissions to design cinema posters. On the eve of the war, she was creating children’s toys. Unbeknownst to the new Dutch citizen, the Nazis were about to catch up with her.
Of all the countries occupied by Germany during World War II, the Netherlands had the most robust pre-war population registry. The system’s success was attributed to Jacob Lentz, a Dutch official who created the so-called “fool-proof” personal identity card. During the Nazi occupation, Lentz refined his system to help authorities issue new cards throughout the country.
In addition to a high-tech design and use of the bearer’s fingerprints, Dutch identity cards were backed up in a central registry. This made it possible to confirm whether or not a suspicious-looking ID had been forged. At the exhibit on Alice Cohn’s life, she is contrasted with the population-counting expert Lentz. While Cohn used her artistic skills to help save lives, Lentz — conjuring “the banality of evil” — deployed his organizational skills to implement the Nazis’ agenda.
Beginning in 1941, all Dutch men and women were ordered to carry ID cards with them. For Jews, a large black “J,” for Jew, was stamped on both sides of the card. By the summer of 1942, authorities began using the registry to arrest and deport Jews from the Netherlands. Suddenly, the demand for altered or completely falsified identification exploded, including the need to crack Lentz’s “hermetic” system.
Before she went into hiding, Cohn found a position with Amsterdam’s Jewish Council as a doctor’s assistant. With the job providing her a nominal degree of freedom, she was able to smuggle a Jewish child — 3-year-old Lonnie Lesser — out of a building where Jews were incarcerated prior to deportation. After seeing the child safely into hiding, Cohn made her own way to a “safe” address in Utrecht, south of Amsterdam.
'The Utrecht Children's Committee'
During two years of hiding in an attic near Utrecht’s Wilhelmina Park, Cohn accomplished what had been deemed impossible: She forged identity cards able to withstand scrutiny.
The tools she used — test cards, knives, a notebook to practice signatures in — are on display at the National Holocaust Museum, along with head-shots and other artifacts used by the Dutch population registry.
According to the museum, Cohn and her group of co-resisters, called “The Utrecht Children’s Committee,” managed to save 350 children from deportation and murder. The group also forged ration coupons needed by “underground” people in hiding to obtain food. During the last year of the war, many new “wild papers” were needed to help young Dutch men evade forced labor in Germany.
After liberation, Cohn learned that all of her relatives from Breslau had been murdered, including her parents. Like other Jews among the Netherlands’ surviving remnant, she had to build a new life from scratch.
As fate had it, Cohn began obtaining fabrics from a Lichtenstein-based merchant named Rudolf Bermann. The materials he provided helped her create, for instance, puppets with grimacing faces and vibrant costumes, some of which are on display in the exhibit. What began as an exchange of fabrics blossomed into love, and, in 1947, Cohn left the Netherlands to join Bermann as his wife in Lichtenstein.
Two months ago, some 17 years after Cohn died at age 85 in Lichtenstein, she was posthumously awarded the “Jewish Rescuers’ Citation” for Jews who helped save fellow Jews during the Shoah. Cohn’s daughter and son, Evelyne Bermann and Michael Bermann, were presented with the honor during the Amsterdam opening of the exhibit on their mother’s life. So far, 171 women and men from eight countries have been honored by Jewish organization B’nai B’rith in this capacity.
“There are many people who were able to escape deportation through fake identity cards,” said exhibit curator Annemiek Gringold. “The people who had the skills and the courage to carry out this vital work remain largely unknown until today.”
Click here to learn more about our Jewish Rescuers' Citation.
JNS.org cited B'nai B'rith International's response to President Donald Trump's January 2, 2018 tweet describing the possibility of reducing the amount of aid given to the Palestinians by the United States.
In its statement, B'nai B'rith International noted, “The Palestinians have refused to negotiate directly with Israel, have failed to comply with their obligations under previous agreements, and have chosen instead to pursue an anti-Israel, anti-U.S. agenda at the United Nations.”
Many major Jewish organizations are expressing support for the idea of reducing U.S. aid to the Palestinians after President Donald Trump mentioned the possibility of a cut in a tweet this week.
In a Jan. 2 tweet, the president wrote, “We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect…with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the same day that Trump “doesn’t want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table.”
Some American aid to the Palestinians is sent to the Palestinian Authority (PA), some is given directly to Palestinian projects in PA-controlled areas and some is channeled through U.N. agencies that assist the Palestinians, such as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The current annual U.S. contribution to the Palestinians totals more than $600 million.
AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann told JNS, “We have supported and continue to support reductions in assistance to the Palestinian Authority based on actions such as payments to families of terrorists and violation of its peace process commitment to direct talks with Israel, instead seeking to have the international community endorse Palestinian objectives.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the Palestinian Authority “has proven tone deaf to every previous U.S. warning about its actions, so perhaps some reduction in aid would finally get its attention.” Hoenlein told JNS that the Trump administration “has a right to standards for aid that it provides, and where countries violate those standards, or trample human rights, then the U.S. absolutely has a right to withhold aid—especially when all the U.S. is asking the PA to do is to negotiate. That’s not exactly some major concession.”
“It is reasonable for the U.S. to use foreign aid as one of several mechanisms for responding to instances where its own interests, or the interests of its allies, are threatened,” B’nai B’rith International said in a statement to JNS. “The Palestinians have refused to negotiate directly with Israel, have failed to comply with their obligations under previous agreements, and have chosen instead to pursue an anti-Israel, anti-U.S. agenda at the United Nations.”
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, told JNS that “if the Palestinian Authority balks at advancing the peace process, or if it engages in anti-American rhetoric or behavior, then, of course, it’s appropriate to send a strong message of disapproval, including a cut in support.” At the same time, however, Harris cautioned that “what seems black-and-white from a distance may, in this case, entail at least a few shades of gray and some less-than-ideal options.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Trump “is targeting the U.N., Pakistan, and now the Palestinian Authority as a businessperson rather than a politician, asking ‘Am I getting value for my money? If not, and the recipients use American taxpayers’ money to scorn the U.S., why should money continue to flow to them?’ Perhaps the shock therapy of the U.S. not acting as an automatic ATM machine is a good thing.”
Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, which represents more than 100 Orthodox synagogues nationwide, went further. He told JNS that U.S. aid to the Palestinians “should not be contingent on their return to the negotiating table but on their change of policies that support terrorism and inculcate their children with hatred for Jews.” Until those policies are changed, Weiss, said, “we see no prospects for peace regardless of whether they resume peace talks.”
Left-of-center voices disagree.
Kenneth Bob, president of Ameinu, formerly known as the Labor Zionist Alliance, told JNS he believes any reduction in U.S. aid would be “counter-productive” because it could impact “essential Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation” and “important humanitarian aid.” Therefore, he said, “I do not see any positive outcome for Israel, the U.S. or the Palestinians from a cut in aid.”
Dr. Michael Koplow, policy director of the dovish Israel Policy Forum, said that while “it is certainly appropriate for the U.S. not to fund regimes that express anti-American sentiments,” that is outweighed by “the risk that reductions or cut-offs in aid will lead to even worse regimes or devastating security consequences.” He noted that the U.S. gives aid to “states that often display mixed feelings about the U.S. at best,” such as Pakistan and Egypt.
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Steve Grossman, who is also a former president of AIPAC, told JNS that he “wouldn’t rule out using American aid to the Palestinians as a vehicle for putting pressure on the Palestinians to act in ways that are consistent with a peace process,” but “it should only be done in extreme cases.”
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B'nai B'rith International is the Global Voice of the Jewish Community.
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