The Trump administration has come under pressure to deny Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas entry into the United States for next week’s annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.
Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a group that tracks anti-Semitism and terrorism in Palestinian media, petitioned the White House, as well as the State and Treasury departments, to reject Abbas from stepping foot on American soil in accordance with new federal statutes prohibiting international terrorist leaders from traveling to the United States.
“Abbas has also called for the ‘destruction of the house’ of President Trump, and uses almost every opportunity to attack the US, the current administration and its policies,” PMW said in the letter. “There is no doubt Abbas will use his UN address to continue these attacks.”
“While it may be argued that the United States is committed to allow the entry and free passage of certain persons into the US to participate in meetings of the United Nations, that commitment is limited to the ‘Representatives of Member’ States,” PMW continued. “Since Palestine is not a member state of the United Nations, Abbas does not enjoy these privileges and his entry into the US must be specifically granted.”
In the letter, PMW also cited the Taylor Force Act, enacted in March to halt most U.S. assistance to the P.A. for rewarding terrorists and their families, among other reasons to prevent Abbas from being at the General Assembly.
A State Department spokesperson told The Washington Free Beacon that usually, foreign dignitaries must be allowed entry to the United States due to it being the United Nations’ host country.
“I can’t speak to the specifics, but typically, as host nation for the United Nations, the United States is generally obligated to admit foreign nationals traveling to U.N. headquarters in New York for official U.N. business,” the official said.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president and CEO of B’nai B’rith International, said “while the United States might be obligated to admit him, his and Palestinian leaders’ repeated justification and glorification of those who carry out acts of terror once again underscore the consistent failure of Abbas as a partner for peace.”
‘Already delivering a powerful policy signal’
Sander Gerber, a private New York financial executive and former board member of AIPAC who was a major player behind advocating for the Taylor Force Act, told JNS that the international community fails to truly understand the Palestinian Authority, and that if “the rest of the world can’t identify [the P.A.] as a terrorist-sponsoring entity, then we really have no hope to control the terrorists.”
“The Palestinians should not be granted an exception and the world … must face the reality that the Palestinian Authority is actually sponsoring terror and should be designated as such,” he stated.
However, Washington-based geopolitical strategist and diplomacy consultant John Sitilides, told JNS that barring Abbas from the United States would be counterintuitive, considering recent punitive measures by the Trump administration against the Palestinians.
“The leading state sponsor of international terrorism remains Iran, whose leaders are permitted to enter the U.S. for United Nations’ purposes. Earlier this year, President Trump met personally for several days with Kim Jong Un, another leading state sponsor of international terrorism,” said Sitilides. “In comparative terms, barring Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Israel seeks to cooperate on a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian disputes, would be highly counterproductive.”
He added that “the Trump administration’s recent redirection of $200 million in U.S. aid for West Bank and Gaza is already delivering a powerful policy signal of Washington’s great displeasure over ongoing Palestinian activities.”
This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill.
Many Palestinians’ very identity seems more oriented to preserving grievance than to achieving peace. Sadly, with regard to Palestinians’ far-reaching claims on the issue of refugees, as with other key aspects of their conflict with Israel, the United Nations has entrenched itself as a part of the problem rather than the solution. A U.N. body, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), funded by American and other global taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars, has been dedicated to the perpetuation of Palestinians’ refugee status and their maximalist demands – in addition to more broadly amplifying the political narrative of just one side of one complex conflict.
Fortunately, though, senior American officials now seem committed to rectifying this state of affairs – and the time could be ripe for international backing of the effort. The White House has suspended funding of UNRWA, and is reportedly primed to announce opposition to the obdurate Palestinian posture on refugees. Both Israelis and Palestinians could benefit from these steps, along with prospects for genuine and lasting peace between them.
During and after the first war launched by Arab states against Israel upon its establishment in 1948, some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled the country. Meanwhile, as a result of the hostilities, at least 750,000 Jews were compelled to leave Arab countries in which they had lived for centuries.
The similarities, however, largely end there. The Jews who fled Arab and other Muslim-majority lands were fully absorbed into Israel and other countries decades ago, restarting their lives despite significant challenges. The Palestinians who were displaced were spurred by Arab leaders to cling to their refugee status – and were widely denied citizenship or even basic rights as residents in Arab countries where they found themselves.
The world’s only Jewish state, Israel – a democratic country barely the size of New Jersey – now has about 1.8 million Arab citizens, not including the residents of the Palestinian territories. In the nearly two dozen neighboring Arab countries, comprising an area of over five million square miles, fewer than 5,000 Jews remain.
Palestinian leaders – from the establishment figures of the Palestinian Authority to the Hamas jihadists controlling Gaza, who openly pledge Israel’s destruction – have cultivated as sacrosanct a Palestinian right of mass “return” not to a future Palestinian state alongside Israel but to Israel itself. They do so knowing that no Israeli government – whether leaning to the left or right – could ever allow this scenario, which would amount not only to perpetual battle but to the eradication through demography of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course, rejection of Jews’ national legitimacy in their homeland is what has caused so much senseless suffering to begin with.
To make matters worse, Palestinians alone have had, since 1949, their own dedicated refugee organization at the United Nations, standing apart from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which focuses on all the world’s other refugees, numbering close to 17 million. UNRWA – one of the longest-lasting entities at the U.N. and likely its single largest bureaucracy in terms of personnel – has also operated under singularly expansive terms, defining as its charges not only actual refugees but all their descendants, indefinitely.
But this double standard is merely the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of years, UNRWA schools teaching a new generation of Palestinians have been found to utilize educational materials negating the existence of Israel and the rights and history of Jews. Repeatedly, UNRWA employees have been found to be associated with Palestinian extremist groups and their doctrines of hate. UNRWA spokespeople routinely promulgate anti-Israel propaganda, broadcasting incendiary, one-sided narratives on both traditional and social media. Multiple UNRWA facilities and their surroundings have even been revealed to have been utilized by terrorists to launch attacks, store weaponry or construct underground tunnels for use in cross-border violence against Israelis. And UNRWA, whose materials tout “Palestine” as if it were already a state even while also excusing Palestinians from any real obligations in peacemaking, has joined in inciting millions to dream of overrunning Israel with a mass Palestinian influx.
Over recent days, reports have emerged that White House officials, echoing bipartisan consensus, are committed to addressing the deep-rooted problems exacerbated by UNRWA and to rejecting Palestinian aspirations to overrun Israel demographically. The desire of an unprecedented number of Arab leaders to focus on foremost current priorities, including modernization and the broadly menacing policies of Iran, may yield some newfound receptiveness.
Ultimately, in a sign of impartiality consistent with the U.N.’s own founding principles, UNRWA’s work should be absorbed into the overall U.N. refugee agency. More immediately, dramatic reform of UNRWA’s mandate and operations is a necessity for restoring U.N. credibility and efficiency, ensuring fair treatment of both Israelis and Palestinians, and meaningfully pursuing peace in the Middle East. Until that long-overdue reform occurs, funds earmarked for UNRWA should be redirected in a manner that promotes, not hinders, regional reconciliation.
For too long, UNRWA has been a primary symbol of discrimination and waste in U.N. agencies that a consortium of nearly 50 Muslim states frequently exploits as political weapons against Israel. Palestinians may certainly continue to receive foreign aid and social services. However, with their utter dependency on the role played by UNRWA – not only in material assistance but also shrill political advocacy – the Palestinians have had little incentive to finally normalize their own circumstances, temper unfeasible demands and reach a mutually just peace with Israel. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority has rejected every sweeping peace proposal put to it.
Palestinians of successive generations have retained refugee status in Arab and other countries some 70 years after a similar number of Jewish refugees were fully absorbed in Israel and elsewhere. This status quo does not serve Palestinians – and it does not serve the cause of peace. It’s time for a change.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is executive vice president and CEO of B’nai B’rith International. He directs and supervises programs, activities and staff around the world. He serves as director of B'nai B'rith's International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, coordinating its programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. Mr. Mariaschin meets with world leaders, seeking to advance human rights, protect the rights of Jewish communities worldwide, and promote better relations with the state of Israel.
David J. Michaels is director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as special assistant to the executive vice president.
It’s long been an article of faith in the pro-Israel community that the increasing attacks on Israel’s legitimacy that are part of the BDS movement have morphed from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism.
Now, it appears, the U.S. government agrees.
The Trump administration, in announcing its adoption of a universally accepted definition of anti-Semitism for use on college campuses, could significantly impact how the Israel wars play out in higher education nationwide. If implemented, it would undermine the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement that seeks to isolate Israel politically and economically just as it has been gaining traction on U.S. campuses. And, in an additional step, the Department of Justice is now including Jews within the Title VI definition of groups that are protected from discrimination based on ethnicity.
The decisions were applauded by most Jewish groups this week after the Trump administration announced that they would reopen a case of alleged discrimination against Jews who were charged admission to a free program sponsored by a pro-Palestinian group at Rutgers University in 2011.
The Department of Justice’s new assistant secretary in the Office of Civil Rights, Kenneth Marcus, informed the Zionist Organization of America in an Aug. 27 letter that he has decided to re-examine the case after an earlier complaint by the ZOA had been dismissed. In so doing, he wrote that he would be including Jews within the Title VI definition of groups that are protected from discrimination based on “actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” Among other groups already included are African-Americans and Hispanics.
“In determining whether students face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry, we rely where appropriate upon widely established definitions of anti-Semitism,” Marcus wrote, adding that the department would embrace one adopted two years ago by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and that was recommended last year for use by the European Parliament.
In the Rutgers case, a $5 admission fee was added, according to an email, because “150 Zionists just showed up.” The email added, “if someone looks like a supporter, they can get in for free.”
Marcus said also in his letter that his office would be opening an investigation of Rutgers to “determine whether a hostile environment on the basis of national origin or race currently exists at the university for students of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
Mort Klein, president of the ZOA, said the action of the pro-Palestinian group, Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action, was clearly anti-Semitic.
“It was a Jew-bashing event that had been advertised as free and [when Jews showed up] they said Jews would be charged,” he said. “That is an example of discrimination because they were Jews. It has nothing to do with their practice of Judaism.”
Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said he did not “know where the review will lead, but it allows the department to say it is employing the working definition of anti-Semitism” that is now widely accepted.
“There was always a question of where the criticism of Israel crossed over to be a form of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Definitions are meant to be guidelines, not etched in stone. Certain expressions can be recognized as being anti-Semitic. That was always the importance of the definition. Now it has gained more acceptance internationally — [Great Britain’s] Labor Party has just accepted it.”
Rabbi Baker noted that “Marcus in his letter says that when you look at a question of whether there is a hostile environment for Jews on campus and how you determine it, the definition is a helpful way of understanding what could be anti-Semitism. Then you have to determine at what point there is a hostile environment [for Jews] and what is the university doing about it. What we saw in the UK is how the word Zionist could be a substitute for Jew. We have said use the definition but be mindful of free speech. And on college campuses there is a significant debate about where free speech should end. …. This is the challenge for every university.”
Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, also welcomed the decision, saying it is a “reflection of the way we look at anti-Semitism in the 21st century. … I believe what we have here is a course correction to what anti-Semitism is. I think for too long the cover of saying this is only legitimate criticism is now being exposed in many cases. This is discrimination based on ethnicity — and now we are going to see more of it” being recognized for what it is.
“The defamation of Israel is so prevalent in today’s battle with anti-Semitism that something like this is to be expected,” he added. [Former Secretary of State] Colin Powell said at a 2004 conference on anti-Semitism that [one has crossed the line] when Israel or its leaders are demeaned or vilified by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures. The most recent definition of anti-Semitism includes denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming their state is a racist endeavor and applying a double standard by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he too agrees with the Marcus’ decision.
“Every person has a right to criticize anybody else,” he said. “This is a free country. But when the only criticism you ever utter is directed against the State of Israel — and you refuse to do the same for other countries — that is anti-Semitism. It means you have a problem with Jews — and that is also my criticism of the United Nations. Look at its history of U.N. resolutions. … These are not political discussions but a form of bigotry.”
And Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a tweet: “Without prejudging outcome of the process, academic freedom & strongly held political views are not a shield to harass or intimidate students and/or treat them differently because of their race or religion. No matter who is targeted, that’s bias plain & simple.”
But criticism of the decision came from the pro-Israel lobbying group J Street, which said in a statement that reopening the case demonstrates that the Trump administration “is inclined to suppress criticism of Israel on college campuses — even if that means trampling on constitutionally-protected free speech.”
“Its reopening is not about upholding civil rights or a serious effort to combat anti-Semitism, but about advancing a right-wing agenda that seeks to silence open discussion and debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” it said. “To do so, the Trump administration intends to wield a controversial definition of anti-Semitism that equates criticism of Zionism with anti-Semitism — and which was never intended for use on college campuses.
Ken Stern, the renowned anti-Semitism expert (and former CEO of National Public Radio and lifelong Democrat) who authored this definition, has argued vehemently against its application to college life, publicly opposing proposed congressional legislation that would codify it into U.S. law.
“Stern has written that ‘If this bill becomes law it is easy to imagine calls for university administrators to stop pro-Palestinian speech … students and faculty members will be scared into silence, and administrators will err on the side of suppressing or censuring speech.’ That is likely precisely what Marcus and his backers now intend.”
Echoing that refrain is Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, who told The Jewish Week in an email: “Instead of aiming to address real instances of anti-Semitism, the Trump administration is trying to violate students’ First Amendment rights by shutting down all criticism of Israel.”
“Like any country, Israel is subject to having its laws, policies, and leadership criticized — even if some may disagree with such criticisms, even vehemently,” she said. “At a time when the Trump administration is allying itself with white supremacists, attacking immigrants and refugees, and decreasing enforcement of most civil rights offenses, we do not need bogus policies that shut down campus free speech, while likely stirring up anger against the very Jewish students they purport to protect.”
But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, insisted that “this case has nothing to do with speech. They were charging $5 for Zionists – meaning Jews.”
He noted that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has already been adopted by the Senate and that the Wiesenthal Center hopes that “by the end of the session it will also pass the House. If it becomes law, it means we will have a working definition of anti-Semitism” that would not be subject of interpretation by each new administration.
The co-founder of CEO of StandWithUs, Roz Rothstein, said in a statement that at the same time her international Israel education organization “strongly supports free speech, open discourse about Israeli policy, and protections against discrimination,” it applauds the Department of Education “for adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This definition is already being used by the EU, Canada, U.S. State Department, and most importantly, the majority of the organized Jewish community. The loudest opponents of the definition should stop promoting hate against Israel and the Jewish people, instead of engaging in cynical attempts to avoid accountability.”
The Jewish Broadcasting Service covered the opening of B'nai B'rith International's Disaster Relief Fund to support communities impacted by the California wildfires and the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii. Watch here:
Harold “Hesch” Steinberg, current Disaster Relief Committee chair of B’nai B’rith International, was featured in a recent issue of The Hebrew Watchman. Read about his volunteer work below.
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