EurAsiaAz Interview with Benjamin Nägele: "Unfortunately Anti-Semitism Has Increased in Almost All EU Member States"
EurAsiaAz interviewed B'nai B'rith International's Director of EU Affairs Benjamin Nägele about B'nai B'rith's work combating anti-Semitism in Europe. Click the button below to read the original article.
EurAsiaAz interviews Director of European Affairs, B'nai B'rith International Benjamin Nägele.
- How do you assess the results of the work of B'nai B'rith in the fight against anti-Semitism in Europe in 2018? Is there anything to be proud of?
- We are trying to fight a worrying phenomenon that has unfortunately increased dramatically in the last years: Anti-Semitism is being perceived by up to 9 out of 10 European Jews as the most significant societal problem of current times, and anti-Semitic incidents and attacks are dramatically rising. Society at large must understand that Jewish communities, often constituting less than 1% of the overall population, have been the target of up to 1/3 of all hate crimes in EU countries. This is a very worrying development that we at B’nai B’rith with our members and supporters are committed to tackle. Jewish communities cannot be left alone with this overwhelming burden.
In 2018 B’nai B’rith has been hosting and participating in many high-level conferences at and with the European Union Institutions to raise awareness on the subject and is in close contact and exchange through our EU office in Brussels with high-level officials, European Parliamentarians as well as the current Council presidency, and we are proud to have reached and worked with more partners and supporters than ever:
Thanks to the efforts of Jewish umbrella organizations such as B’nai B’rith, several important decisions and declarations have been adopted in 2018 on the EU and national level, that hopefully will push further the fight against anti-Semitism and will urge EU member states to increase their efforts.
Be it the EU Council declaration on combating anti-Semitism that was adopted this month, the EU’s decision to join the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a permanent international partner, there have been several major efforts to oppose this worrying trend.
Last month alone saw two more EU member states, the Netherlands and Slovakia, adopt the crucial IHRA Anti-Semitism definition, a key document in the fight against anti-Semitism.
- Have any legislative acts been adopted in the field of the protection of the rights of Jews in European countries last year?
-We will hopefully see more legislative acts that will be adopted following the significant EU Council declaration, also related to the fight against terrorism online content, that the European Commission s working on at the moment. This is a crucial aspect given that online anti-Semitism and content advocating anti-Semitic terrorist offenses is one of the most urgent and increasing problems. The most recent legislative act that has been adopted on a national level this year is a new law in Romania based on the IHRA anti-Semitism definition that criminalizes the promotion and distribution of anti-Semitic ideas or materials, as well founding of organizations with anti-Semitic character. These can all be considered crimes that are punishable by imprisonment from 3 months up to 10 years.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised most European leaders for fighting anti-Semitism. In particular, he thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Teresa May, the head of the Hungarian government, Viktor Orban and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz. What can you say about this? Has the situation with anti-Semitism improved in these countries?
- Unfortunately anti-Semitism has increased in almost all EU member states. But so has the acknowledgement of the problem and commitment, especially from the mentioned European leaders, to tackle the problem and implement solutions. During the current Austrian EU Council presidency Chancellor Sebastian Kurz made the fight against anti-Semitism a priority, hosted a high-level conference in Vienna and an anti-Semitism declaration has been adopted thanks to the support of all mentioned EU leaders unanimously by the 28 EU member states. We have also seen the nomination of additional special Anti-Semitism coordinators in EU member states as well as on regional level and high-level conferences on the subject by several EU countries.
- In which countries of Europe is there a trend associated with a decrease in the number of cases of anti-Semitism?
- The European Commission has tasked the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency FRA to conduct a survey among 13 EU Member states comprising 96% of European Jewry. The results of this biggest ever conducted EU study are very worrying, and show dramatic increases in - and fear of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in almost all countries that the survey covers. Although Hungary shows the lowest amount of people who worry about becoming a victim of harassment or physical attacks, it at the same time has the second lowest assessment by the survey participants in their government’s ability and efforts to combat anti-Semitism. This shows that it is very important to look at the statistics in context and draw responsible conclusions.
- Recently, the European Union adopted the “Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism”. Please tell us about this declaration. How will this declaration affect the work of Jewish organizations in the fight against anti-Semitism?
We are very grateful for the Austrian government and chancellor Kurz and their dedication and commitment to combat anti-Semitism by making it one of the Council priorities during their half year presidency that came to and end last month. B’nai B’rith participated in the high-level conference of the Austrian Chancellery in November prior to the adoption of the anti-Semitism declaration, and has worked closely with member states and its council representatives on drafting the document. We commend the Austrian Council Presidency, but also EU Commissioner for Justice Jourova and her team for their efforts as well as the 28 EU member-states for adopting such a key document unanimously.
The declaration calls, among other things, to ensure security for Jewish communities, institutions, and citizens, to emphasize the importance of Holocaust commemoration and education, and to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism in the fields of law enforcement, education and training. It is of utmost importance for member states to follow and implement these important recommendations.
This declaration will also help and support our work advocating on behalf of our members and Jewish communities around Europe in raising awareness as well as showing concrete solutions to combat it. We have seen the same thing with the European Parliament resolution of June 2017. Although not having binding legal effect, it nevertheless has served as a guideline and helpful reference tool for Jewish communities and organizations such as ours to have a common understanding on the underlying issues as well as concrete measures that need to be implemented on member-state level to finally contain the spreading problem.
- What new tasks are assigned to your organization in 2019?
Romania will take over the EU Council presidency in the first half of 2019, and has already announced that it wants to continue the fight against anti-Semitism as one of its priorities. A follow up Council conference on the subject is already planned for February 2019, that B’nai B’rith will participate in. B’nai B’rith will also continue to support and cooperate closely with European Commissioner for Justice Jourova and her Fundamental Rights unit, and as advisory board member to the official European Parliament anti-Semitism working group. A crucial aspect in 2019, that BBI is engaged in, will be the implementation of initiatives, specifically in the area of education, as well as pushing for further special anti-Semitism coordinators on the member-state level, and have the IHRA definition adopted in further EU member-states.
B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and Mark B. Levin, executive vice chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, wrote the following op-ed in FOX News. Click here for the original article.
By any measure, anti-Semitism is on the rise globally. Physical assaults, verbal harassment and online vulgarity and threats have reached alarming levels.
Despite this, the United States is still lacking an appointee for a key position to identify, expose and combat this scourge: the State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
In March 2017 we noted in a Fox News op-ed that the White House had not acted to fill this position. It’s now 2019 and there is still no one in the job, while over this timeframe the situation has become markedly worse for Jews across the world.
A survey of more than 16,000 Jews in European Union member nations by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights uncovered some truly frightening statistics. Released in December, the survey found nearly 90 percent of respondents say anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years.
Safety concerns are limiting respondents’ ability and desire to take part in Jewish events, with more than a third saying they avoid taking part in Jewish activities or visiting Jewish sites because they feel unsafe.
Fear of being physically attacked for being Jewish was common among 40 percent of respondents. And for more than one in three respondents, abandoning their home country due to safety concerns is a very real consideration.
Last year alone, we can find a horrifying supply of anti-Semitic abuses, and no cohesive American governmental voice to speak against them.
In May, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was brutally killed in her Paris apartment – stabbed 11 times – by two men who investigators say targeted her because she was Jewish.
A July report from The Community Security Trust found 100 anti-Semitic incidents are now reported every month in Britain.
Physical attacks are becoming a regular occurrence. For example, in an incident in Sussex in England, students assaulted an 11-year-old boy after a sustained verbal abuse campaign including shouts of: “death to all Jews” and “burn all Jews.”
In Belgium last year, a 24-year-old man was caught on video destroying some 20 mezuzahs (small parchment scrolls inscribed with a Hebrew prayer and placed in a case affixed to doorposts of many Jewish homes). The same man also reportedly damaged the entry doors of some Jewish institutions and knocked the hat from the head of an Orthodox Jewish man.
In Russia, anti-Semitic graffiti – “Jews out of Russia, our land” – was found in the hometown of the Chabad movement.
A survey of more than 16,000 Jews in European Union member nations by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights uncovered some truly frightening statistics. Released in December, the survey found nearly 90 percent of respondents say anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years.
In Hungary, anti-Semitic imagery was used on a magazine cover to link Jews – in this case in the form of the leader of the Jewish Federation of Hungary – to money.
Incidents in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – among other Latin American countries – include a teacher defending Adolf Hitler and endorsing anti-Semitism; vandalism against a synagogue that included arson and written threats; and an Israeli couple denied a stay at a hostel because of the owner’s anti-Israel views.
Even though the United States is not part of the State Department special envoy’s mandate, our own country is no stranger to anti-Semitism. As a nation, we collectively mourned the shocking massacre of 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October.
At colleges and universities, there are threats against students for defending Israel, along with calls by student government associations to have their schools undertake academic boycotts of Israel. There have even been professors who refused to offer recommendation letters to students who wanted to study in Israel.
Holocaust distortion and minimization are also on the rise globally. At the same time, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is working to undermine Israel’s legitimate rights as an international business, academic, technological and arts hub.
The absence of a designated representative of the United States government calling out these incidents around the world is a glaring omission. The moral authority that the envoy’s stature has provided in the past has opened minds and created dialogue around the world.
In September, we welcomed the U.S. House of Representatives passage of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act, which we noted would send “a clear message as anti-Semitism surges globally that the U.S. will not tolerate hatred and bigotry.”
But still, the post is vacant.
A U.S. anti-Semitism envoy would confer urgency on the global acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. A standard definition gives scholars, the media, authorities (in the case in dealing with hate crimes) and the general public the tools to understand anti-Semitism and more effectively combat it.
In May 2016 IHRA adopted this definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The definition also includes as anti-Semitism: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
But without a U.S. envoy to promote the definition, advocate for nations to adhere to it and encourage swift punishment for those who violate it, having such a definition loses some of its power.
In 2004, the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act enabled the U.S. government to track global anti-Semitic acts and keep a record of a nation’s responses to acts within its borders.
That same year, at an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Berlin, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said anti-Semitism is “not just a fact of history but a current event.”
Unfortunately, that is just as true 15 years later.
The significance of an envoy dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism cannot be understated. It puts the United States on the record as a moral authority and unequivocally tells the world that we will not let it start down a slippery slope of tolerating the intolerable: the acceptance of anti-Semitism.
Governments still look to the United States for leadership on this issue. When they see the stature the U.S. confers on this topic through the envoy appointment, they will be more likely to follow suit.
Filling this post is a matter of utmost urgency.
NBC News interviewed B'nai B'rith International's Director for Senior Services Mark Olshan about the impact of the government shutdown on affordable housing for seniors. Read the original article here.
The government shutdown means that the long-leaking roof of San Jose Manor II Apartments won’t be replaced anytime soon, says Alma Ballard, who oversees the building for low-income senior citizens in Jacksonville, Florida.
“That’s definitely not going to happen,” said Ballard, executive director of the nonprofit Family Housing Management, who said that water has at times dripped into some residents’ rooms.
Ballard said Family Housing Management had been saving up for a new roof for the 50-unit government-subsidized property, but had to put the plans on hold because its contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development was still in the process of being renewed when the shutdown began. The company never received its December and January payments from HUD, totaling about $40,000, immediately putting the property under financial strain.
The few federal employees left at HUD have been scouring the books, looking for a last-minute solution to fund hundreds of affordable housing contracts that have expired under the shutdown.
More than 200 of the contracts that expired in December are for properties, like San Jose Manor II, that provide rental assistance for the elderly, according to LeadingAge, an association for nonprofit providers of aging services. Known as Section 202, the program houses about 400,000 low-income elderly people as part of HUD's Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance.
These tenants are particularly at risk during the shutdown, says Linda Couch, vice president of housing policy for LeadingAge. Despite its scramble for a fix, HUD has not been able to find any stopgap funding to support the Section 202 landlords whose contracts expired in December, Brian Montgomery, HUD's acting deputy secretary, told Couch in a call on Wednesday evening, according to her account.
While HUD has identified buckets of money that could potentially be used to shore up other low-income rental assistance contracts, including those for disabled adults, HUD has not been able to do so for the elderly housing program because of restrictions on how previously allocated funds can be spent, according to Couch's notes from her conversation with Montgomery, currently HUD's second in command.
“HUD has its back up against the wall and has really no good options,” said Couch, who fears the lack of funding could harm some of the most frail and vulnerable Americans.
HUD did not directly address NBC News' questions about the shortfall of funds for the elderly.
"HUD is actively resolving issues with these pending contracts with owners and identifying available resources for payment," Jereon Brown, a HUD spokesman, said in a statement.
The affected properties include San Jose Manor II Apartments, whose management has already resorted to its reserve funding to make up for the missing HUD payments — funds that it had been planning to use for replacing the roof, a particular concern in the hurricane-prone area, Ballard said.
Affected residents include Shirley Henderson, 69, who not only receives housing but also medical assistance at the building, thanks to a mobile health unit that checks her glucose and blood pressure, helping to manage her diabetes.
“How long will it still be going on? Will something happen so that life can go back to the way it’s supposed to be?” said Henderson, tearing up as she described the other families across the country affected by the shutdown, whether because of missing paychecks or stalled home purchases.
Henderson pays $232 in rent every month, which is about a quarter of her Social Security check, and she doesn’t know where she’d live if she had to leave the San Jose apartments.
Ballard said the management is doing everything possible to shield its residents, and would ultimately appeal to the property’s sponsor, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, for a loan if it runs out of reserve funds. She said no tenants will be evicted as long as they continue paying rent.
Ballard added that it's not unusual to experience delays in renewing contracts with HUD, so it wasn’t until after New Year’s Day that she realized there might be a problem, as an $18,000 HUD payment she expected was not in the account.
“We came back to work and said, ‘There’s no money,’" she said. “What’s going to happen to us?”
San Jose Manor II Apartments has about $60,000 in reserves, enough to cover about two months’ worth of basic operating and maintenance costs, including utilities, staff payroll and trash removal. If the shutdown lasts that long, nothing would be left for emergency expenses, much less capital repairs like replacing the roof, Ballard said.
“If something major broke, I wouldn’t have the funds to replace it — a refrigerator or a heat pump or a stove,” she said.
And accessing the reserve funds can be a lengthy, bureaucratic process, Ballard said. Many Section 8 properties pay into a reserve fund each month, but they must get approval from HUD to access the money. With 95 percent of the workforce furloughed, the agency is extremely short-staffed.
“We’re getting the brunt of it and have to jump through all these hoops to serve our residents,” said Ballard, who submitted paperwork that got shuffled through multiple HUD offices to access the funds. “This is just crazy — there should have been some type of contingency funds.”
On Wednesday, HUD sent a message to owners of properties whose contracts had expired, or were expiring in January, providing more detailed instructions on how to request reserve funds “if your property is not receiving payment or is experiencing an emergency situation,” according to HUD emails, which the department also forwarded to affordable housing groups and industry associations.
But not all the affected properties have adequate reserves to draw upon, said Couch, with LeadingAge. “What’s the emergency relief mechanism for those communities?” she said, noting that Section 202 landlords are exclusively nonprofits that don't typically have easy access to outside capital.
House Democrats have begun investigating HUD’s management of the shutdown, criticizing the department’s “failure” to salvage the expiring contracts ahead of time and questioning what happened to $400 million in backup funding for the Section 8 rental assistance program.
HUD has provided just a “slow trickle of information” about the contracts, which has made things harder for landlords and tenants alike, according to Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, which has provided Section 202 housing for decades and operates properties from Arizona to New Jersey that house about 5,000 residents.
“It creates a sense of panic,” said Mark Olshan, the center’s director and associate executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International. “If I go to my manager and say, 'What’s happening?' they say, ‘We don’t know — we can’t get ahold of our HUD office.' "
Brown, the HUD spokesman, said earlier in the week that the agency was working hard to find money for the properties whose contracts had expired. In its Wednesday email to affected property owners, HUD said that once funding was restored, they would be reimbursed if they had drawn from their reserves.
Since nonprofit organizations are mission-driven, they are especially dedicated to ensuring that their residents are able to stay in their homes, Couch said. But the shutdown could force them to make painful choices. “In the worst-case scenario, they will have to question whether or not they can stay in the affordable housing business,” she said.
That could mean even fewer options for poor senior citizens. The waiting list for San Jose Manor II Apartments is already one year to one-and-a-half years long, according to Ballard, who said that if residents were forced to leave, they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. “They would live on the street,” she said. “There’s nothing for them."
B'nai B'rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin sent the following letter to the New York Times in response to its irresponsible, biased coverage of the death of Palestinian medic Rouzan al-Najjar.
To the Editor:
The New York Times needed nearly a dozen staff members to spread the same misinformation as the Palestinian Propaganda Machine in “A Day, a Life: When a Medic Was Killed in Gaza, Was It an Accident?”
The Times, once again, swallowed the Palestinian narrative hook, line and sinker, and then disseminated it as if it were impartial news.
At best, it is fiction based on some real events and assumptions and — plain and simple — bias. Nowhere is there a true accounting of Hamas’ active and deadly offensive campaign against Israel’s very existence and against Israelis one by one through Hamas rocket attacks onto a sovereign nation and its infiltration attempts, through tunnels and other border incursions, to stab, maim, kidnap and kill Israelis.
According to the Times, the Hamas rockets mysteriously fall on Israel, rather than being actively and purposely fired – from schools and hospitals and U.N.-sponsored facilities, even from private homes – to kill Israelis.
Sadly, we have come to expect this bias from the Times, which periodically romanticizes the Palestinian narrative in multi-page spreads with fancy graphics.
There is so much to unpack here, but we are left with this question: Why doesn’t the Times investigate the obvious violations and inhumane treatment of people inside Gaza by Hamas? Nowhere is there an examination of terrorists carrying out attacks sometimes masquerading as ambulance drivers or journalists.
Nowhere does the Times accounts show Hamas using emergency vehicles to transport combatants or armaments. Shame on Hamas for orchestrating this theater for the purposes of videotaping chaos that it can pin on the IDF.
The Times is revealing nothing. It isn't even practicing responsible journalism. The Times has become a prominent outlet for spreading Hamas propaganda. It is successfully giving Palestinians even more ammunition to teach hate to future generations.
Charles O. Kaufman
B’nai B’rith International President
Daniel S. Mariaschin
B’nai B’rith International CEO
Actualité Juive published this op-ed by B'nai B'rith France leader Philippe Meyer. It has been translated from the original French.
According to a recent survey conducted by the IFOP Institute for the Jean Jaurès Foundation, 10% of French people have never heard of the Shoah, and the proportion climbs to 19% among respondents aged 18 to 34 years. In addition, the French are 21% not knowing the period during which the Shoah was perpetrated. Inconceivable and yet real. This page of history, among the darkest that humanity has known, which saw six million Jews being exterminated, including one million children, is becoming more and more foreign to our fellow citizens.
How did we get here ? Who failed? Given the extent of those who say they do not know what the Holocaust is, especially among the youngest, we can wonder about its teaching in schools, when we also know that it can not anymore for a long time to be explained in certain classes of our secondary schools, and that the place reserved for it in the school curricula is progressively called into question, reform after reform.
And yet, this role of the school is all the more important as the last survivors of the unspeakable leave us inexorably. Marceline Loridan-Ivens, Charles Testyler, Ida Grinspan, Maurice Jablonski, and more recently Noah Klieger and Georges Loinger, without forgetting of course the smuggler of Memory Claude Lanzmann, to think only of them, left in 2018. These human consciences who had done so much to transmit and fight forgetting and lying, will no longer be there to recall with their lived, living and irreplaceable testimonies, with their words, their looks, their voices, and this force tinged with terror and fear, what man has done worse in acceptance and indifference.
In this context, there is an urgent need to consider the duty of transmission and Memory differently. Not only to not forget, but also to fight the resurgence of some of its most serious drifts. In these troubled times when anti-Semitism is spreading, where populism and negationism give voice, where Jewish graves are desecrated swastikas, and where Jews are killed because Jews, it is the responsibility of the nation as a whole, to engage in this renewal of the work of Memory, which has long been a bulwark against hatred and which must become again, and to take over from the word of the survivors who are gradually silent.
This presupposes an unprecedented effort on the part of the public authorities, teachers, intellectuals, journalists, to both transmit what the Holocaust was, and to fight all those who seek to defile and extinguish this flame of the Memory whose light has become so fragile. Beyond speeches and commemorative ceremonies, it is education and culture, through projects that are ambitious, of high quality and intended for the greatest number of people in schools and places of learning, which must be at the heart of this political priority and this national effort.
Today, with a wavering Memory, it is anti-Jewish hatred and its acting out that is released again. Tomorrow, with a Memory in danger, it is history and what is most tragic that will move away from the spirits and threaten to repeat itself. The main accomplice of the worst is ignorance.
Through our history, our heritage and our culture, Memory has always been an integral and constitutive part of Judaism. It is the strength, the cement and the identity. At a time when ignorance is rising, witnesses are disappearing and hatred has set in, the Memory of the Holocaust, and all the genocides of the past century, must now be seized and worn by the whole of society. Faced with her old demons who threaten her, this is also a necessary condition for the construction of her peaceful and harmonious future.
JTA News quoted B'nai B'rith France leader Philippe Meyer in its coverage of an anti-Semitic image promoted by France's Arab World Institute. To read the original article, click this link.
Following protests, a French government institute devoted to promoting Arab culture removed from its website a picture depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding up bloody hands.
The picture, showing protesters wearing Netanyahu masks at a rally while holding up their red painted palms, was featured this month on the Arab World Institute’s website. It advertised a Jan. 3 debate in Paris titled: “Stranglehold on Israel. Netanyahu or the end of the Zionist dream.”
Alize Bin Noun, Israel’s ambassador to France, condemned the image and the text.
“Scandalous and intolerable how a public institute disseminates such defamatory visuals, assisting the vilification of Israel to advertise a so-called ‘debate,’ which is biased to begin with,” she wrote on Twitter. The institute, she added, “has crossed the border of objective criticism and is making itself guilty of incitement.”
The picture was removed over the weekend following her criticism and that of B’nai B’rith France leader Philippe Meyer. He wrote on Twitter: “An institution funded by taxpayers’ money cannot propagate anti-Zionist hatred, which feeds anti-Semitism. Take it down.”
The institute, which is dedicated to promoting and exchanging information and cultural values of the Arab world, was founded in 1980 by the French government and 18 Arab countries.
In 2013, the French government appointed Jack Lang, a Socialist politician and former cabinet minister whose Jewish father is a Holocaust survivor, as the institute’s head.
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