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.”
European Jewish Press - Portuguese cartoonist uses antisemitic symbols to illustrate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The European Jewish Press covered B'nai B'rith International's condemnation of Vasco Gargalo's cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu as anti-Semitic.
In the cartoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who appears with a kippah on his head and an armband with the Star of David – pushes a coffin covered with the flag of Palestine into a crematory. On top of this, one can read ‘’Arbeit Macht Frei’’, the inscription at the entrance gate to the Auschwitz death camp, used by Nazi propaganda to trivialize extermination camps. A Jewish group dedicated to human rights has accused Portuguese cartoonist Vasco Gargalo of anti-Semitism after he used antisemitic symbols to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
B’nai B’rith condemned the publication of the cartoon and asked that the illustrator be fired from the media with which he collaborates regularly.
“O Crematório”, a cartoon designed by Gargalo last November and published on the Cartoon Movement platform, illustrates the presentation last week of US President Donald Teump’s peace plan.
In the cartoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who appears with a kippah on his head and an armband with the Star of David – pushes a coffin covered with the flag of Palestine into a crematory. On top of this, one can read ‘’Arbeit Macht Frei’’, the inscription at the entrance gate to the Auschwitz death camp, used by Nazi propaganda to trivialize extermination camps, suggesting that they were intended for re-education by forced labor.
In another Gargalo’s cartoon, Netanyahu was depicted as an octopus, a creature whose tentacles have long been a favored symbol for antisemitic agitators of supposed Jewish world domination. The Israeli premier was enclosed by a large Star of David as he gripped large bags of money marked with US dollar signs.
B’nai B’rith, the oldest Jewish organization in the world, condemned the cartoon as “a black politician being‘ crucified ’on a Star of David”.
Several Jewish digital publications and pro-Israel groups criticized the work of Vasco Gargalo.
The cartoonist told Portuguese magazine PUBLICO that he is not “against the Jewish community” but against “the policy exercised by Israel towards Palestine”. He believes that the “persecution” that he is being subjected to constitutes an “attack on freedom of expression.”
Esther Mucznik, a scholar of Jewish themes and a chronicler for PÚBLICO, considers “O Crematório” to be an “ignoble” cartoon. She said that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is “very criticizable”, but considers that the comparison to the Holocaust and the Nazi regime is “erroneous and ignorant.”
JTA covered B'nai B'rith International's response to the 2020 State of the Union speech.
President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is now in overdrive, judging by the way he turned much of his State of the Union into a campaign pitch.
“We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back!” he said on Tuesday night.
In an unusually partisan address, Trump lashed out at the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and took shots at the social democracy embraced by one of his potential Democratic rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders. There were rehearsed surprises redolent of the reality TV that earned Trump much of his fame, moments of real drama and no discussion of Trump’s soon-to-conclude impeachment trial.
And there were a few moments of Jewish significance, from the Middle East peace plan the president unveiled last week to an unusual disruption to what went unsaid. Here’s what you need to know.
One sentence about Israel: Three times, Trump conjugated “fail” to ding the Obama administration. Once was when he touted the peace vision that his adviser son-in-law, Jared Kushner, rolled out last week at the White House, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance.
“Last week, I announced a groundbreaking plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said. “Recognizing that all past attempts have failed, we must be determined and creative in order to stabilize the region and give millions of young people the chance to realize a better future.”
It’s been critical for Kushner and Trump to note that the plan, which sanctions Israel’s partial annexation of the West Bank, comes in the place of failed initiatives by Obama and two other presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The plan thus far is stuck in neutral: The Palestinians have rejected it outright, while Israeli action is likely delayed until after next month’s elections.
Bipartisan applause for Iran intervention: Trump celebrated his administration’s most notable kill, the assassination in December of Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian general. That brought one of the rare moments of applause from both sides of the aisle.
Trump also extended the possibility of peace with Iran if the country capitulates to his demand that it halt its nuclear program entirely (Iran insists it is not a weapons program) and cease its adventurism.
“The Iranian regime must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop spreading terror, death and destruction, and start working for the good of its own people,” Trump said. “Because of our powerful sanctions, the Iranian economy is doing very poorly. We can help them make it very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help.”
The overture to Iran, however cautious, fit into an overarching theme of the foreign policy portion of Trump’s speech: the need to end U.S. involvement in overseas conflicts.
“It is also not our function to serve other nations as a law enforcement agency,” Trump said. “These are war fighters, the best in the world, and they either want to fight to win or not fight at all.”
Support for private schools: One rehearsed surprise reality TV-friendly moments came when Trump announced that Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grader from Philadelphia who was present, would receive an “opportunity scholarship” — money to attend whichever schools she prefers, public or private.
Trump used the moment to tout his administration’s signature education legislation, a bill that would expand the scholarships. That was music to the ears of many Orthodox Jews who favor increased public funding of Jewish day schools. The legislation, which Congress has not advanced despite Trump’s urging, would create a national version of programs that exist in 18 states.
Trump also declared that he would protect “the constitutional right to pray in public schools,” but mentioned only Christian symbols, such as crosses. A Jewish parent in the 1960s spearheaded the case that led the Supreme Court to restrict organized school prayer.
Renewed attacks on undocumented immigrants: A big chunk of Trump’s speech was a vivid and grim depiction of migrants as criminal threats. He was touting a Republican bill that would allow victims to sue cities that had offered sanctuary to migrants who go on to commit crimes.
“The United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans — not criminal aliens!” Trump said.
Jewish groups, particularly HIAS and T’ruah, have been at the forefront of the sanctuary movement since Trump first cracked down on undocumented migrants. They note that the crimes cited by Trump and his aides are not representative of a population numbering in the millions.
Disruption by a grieving Jewish father: When Trump spoke about protecting the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, one person in attendance shouted out in protest and was quickly escorted from the room.
That person was Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, one of 17 students and teachers murdered during the school shooting two years ago in Parkland, Florida. Guttenberg, who has dedicated himself to protesting for gun safety, had been present as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“Tonight was a rough night. I disrupted the State Of The Union and was detained because I let my emotions get the best of me. I simply want to be able to deal with the reality of gun violence and not have to listen to the lies about the 2A as happened tonight,” Guttenberg later wrote on Twitter.
“That said, I should not have yelled out. I am thankful for the overwhelming support that I am receiving. However, I do owe my family and friends an apology. I have tried to conduct myself with dignity throughout this process and I will do better as I pursue gun safety.”
What went unmentioned: Jewish defense groups say anti-Semitic expression has spiked, including two violent attacks in New Jersey and New York in the final weeks of 2019. Yet anti-Semitism went unmentioned.
“We were disappointed that the president did not acknowledge the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the United States,” B’nai B’rith International said in a statement that praised Trump’s foreign policy initiatives. “With Jews under attack — physically as well as through relentless social media assaults — a plan to combat anti-Semitism would have fit in well with his overall themes of security and equality.”
The theme of combating anti-Semitism may have been absent from Trump’s speech, but it was in the chamber. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., brought as his guest Rabbi Zev Reichman of the East Hill Synagogue in Englewood, a beneficiary of nonprofit security grants championed by Pascrell. The grants have helped numerous Jewish institutions add security protections.
JNS covered B'nai B'rith International's reaction to President Trump's 2020 State of the Union speech.
In the annual State of the Union address in front of a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump touted, albeit briefly, his policies on Iran and other areas of the Middle East.
In what was a 78-minute speech in the U.S. House of Representatives that mostly focused on domestic policy, Trump called out Tehran’s nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. He touted what the administration has called a “maximum pressure” campaign on the regime that has mainly consisted of imposing sanctions, both those that were lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from in May 2018, along with new ones put in place.
Nonetheless, Trump said Tehran can change its economic destiny were it to change direction.
“We can help them make it very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help,” he said. “We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.”
The president also expressed support for Iranian protesters, as well as mentioned the killing last month of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force in Iran.
“At my direction, the U.S. military executed a precision strike that eliminated Soleimani and ended his evil reign of terror forever,” he said.
Additionally, Trump briefly mentioned rolling out his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who detonated a suicide vest and killed himself after being detected in a U.S. special forces’ operation in Syria in October.
He also called for U.S. troops to be brought home from the Middle East, including Afghanistan, in which his administration has had on-and-off talks with the Taliban to end the nearly 20-year war.
The “designated survivor” during the course of the address—a member of the president’s Cabinet selected to stay at an undisclosed location in case of an attack or instance of the president and line of presidential succession being deceased—was U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who helped light the National Menorah the first night of Hanukkah this past December in Washington, D.C.
‘A celebration of American exceptionalism and economic renewal’
Jewish groups immediately issued mixed reactions to Trump’s remarks.
Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer denounced the president’s speech.
“Tonight, we witnessed a State of the Union address delivered by a president whose egregious wrongdoings are clear to the American people, and whose policies, rhetoric and behavior are antithetical to Jewish and American values,” she said in a statement.
“Instead of dissecting President Trump’s State of the Union address, we are putting the pieces of our country back together by electing Democrats who share our values,” she continued. “We don’t accept the state of the union as President Trump outlined tonight, and instead are focused on changing the state of our union by laying the groundwork for Democratic victories in November.”
Democratic Majority for Israel CEO Mark Mellman concurred, echoing his inner Mark Twain.
“Larded with lies, damn lies and statistics, the State of the Union address was an extraordinary display of Trumpian narcissism, bigotry and demagoguery,” said Mellman in a statement. “Even the beautiful moments scripted by his aides could not hide the chaos, divisiveness and impropriety that has marked the Trump presidency. His vision for America needs to be repudiated in November.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks praised Trump’s address.
“This was the greatest speech of President Trump’s presidency,” he told JNS. “It was a celebration of American exceptionalism and economic renewal.”
“The speech not only outlined the historic accomplishments of his administration that have made us stronger, more secure and ignited a ‘blue collar’ economic boom,” he continued. “The president was compassionate, strong and instilled confidence in his leadership and commitment to leading America to even higher heights.”
B’nai B’rith CEO and executive vice president Dan Mariaschin applauded the parts relevant to the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
“The president’s strong statement on fighting terrorism, particularly Iran’s role in fomenting it, was especially noted,” he told JNS. “We laud the administration’s use of sanctions to curb Iran’s malign behavior, and financial and logistical support of terrorism. And the mention of the recently announced Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal speaks to the rightful priority that is being placed on that important initiative that takes into account Israel’s current and future security needs.”
However, he noted disappointment that the president did not acknowledge “the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the United States. With Jews under attack, physically as well as through relentless social-media assaults, a plan to combat anti-Semitism would have fit in well with his overall themes of security and equality.”
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