The Algemeiner published an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International President Charles O. Kaufman on the historic Abraham Accords and the official signing ceremony at the White House.
Witnessing the Abraham Accords signing last week generated the kind of stimulation that usually accompanies a very strong cup of coffee. The effect of such excitement? It’s tough to fall asleep.
The night of September 15, in fact, was different from all other nights. That familiar phrase is generally reserved for a spring holiday that involves the story of the Exodus, unleavened bread, four glasses of wine, a popular spread of chopped apples, cinnamon and wine, and, finally, a proclamation to gather in Jerusalem. Four questions address what makes this night of the treaties different from all other nights.
In the context of the Abraham Accords, these questions might go something like this. On all other nights, Arab leaders would exhibit unconditional animus toward Jews and Israel, dreaming of their destruction. They’d issue curricula and textbooks that are written to poison the minds of schoolchildren, injecting hate against Jews and Israel into the core of their pedagogy. But on this night, no hateful disagreements will disrupt progress, trade, or innovation; same for fighting hunger and sickness. And on this night, the United Arab Emirates will encourage young people to travel to and from Israel to enjoy great food and entertainment, visit and pray at holy sites, and engage in tech mining.
On all other nights, extremists might operate inside major oil-producing countries to plot and fund terror attacks on Western targets, but on this night, the top imam in Mecca, the holiest city among the world’s Muslims, says cooperating with Jews is acceptable and a good idea.
On all other nights, Israeli planes would take a circuitous, serpentine route to fly from Tel Aviv to the Far East. On this night, Israeli commercial flights will be cleared to fly over Saudi Arabian airspace.
On all other nights, Jews continuously pray at the Western Wall of the ancient temple. On this night, the colorful images of the Israel, Bahrain, and UAE flags are projected on the walls of the Old City. Meanwhile, Arabs will be welcome to visit holy sites in Israel and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site of the Muslim faith.
Finally, after at least 3,000 years of ancient history and 72 years of modern history, there is an official, public rejection of hostilities, with embassies and diplomats planned in each other’s capital cities. The policy model of hate-war-destruction has given way to a very different option — one of diplomacy, a peaceful partnership built on mutual trust, and economic progress. Compared to other historic treaties signed on the South Lawn of the White House, the one signed on September 15 felt very different, according to those who observed them all.
Witnesses to the other Middle East milestone signings recalled the events involving battle-weary Egypt and Jordan, noting distinct caution in the air. On September 15, the leadership of the UAE, Bahrain, Israel, and the US stood shoulder to shoulder. On this day, there were no awkward handshakes, no dubious, glaring looks — or half-hearted, forced, or distrusting full smiles.
Leaders could honestly and publicly state their modified interests in the Palestinian cause, without making their plight conditional to a greater goal — moving forward with cooperation with Israel. In fact, UAE and Bahraini officials are positioned for a new role as an independent third-party, acknowledging that the treaties give Israel and the Palestinians time and space to negotiate an agreement without the looming reality of an “annexation” in Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank. If the two parties aren’t willing to come to the negotiating table, the new partners are saying publicly, there’s nothing much they can do to advance that process. Meanwhile, the rules governing Areas A, B, and C from the Oslo Accords will remain in place.
The Abraham Accords model is there for the taking, for other Gulf States and even for the Palestinians — the cornerstone to an agreement that is likely to engulf other Gulf States and extend into Africa is economic cooperation. Make no mistake, the Emiratis and Bahrainis still have a soft spot for the Palestinians. However, in the wake of creating a gleaming, modern-day Oz, the UAE and Bahrain are no longer willing to be dragged to a halt, waiting for the Palestinian leadership to fulfill its aspirations. The 72-year-old hate-war-destruction refrain has played like a tired old tune. That strategy has proven far too costly, with zero reward for the risk. These two Arab countries decided to cut their allowance to a petulant child without kicking them out of the house. Their tough love, in effect, came with this advice: “It’s time for you to go find a real job.”
The primary opponents of the Abraham Accords, not surprisingly, were Iran, Turkey, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah, among others. Meanwhile, other Arab countries, ready to pull the trigger on an outstanding investment opportunity, were dialing up the partners, wondering, “How do we get in on the action?”
The world is witnessing the beginnings of a tectonic shift — or a “tech-tonic” economic shift. For many Israelis, meanwhile, the feeling of this geopolitical win might be as monumental, if not euphoric, as the 1977 European Cup Championship win by Maccabi Tel Aviv, a victory that lifted the spirit and identity of Israel from such horrifying events as the Olympic massacre in Munich, the Yom Kippur War, and the hostage crisis at the Entebbe airport.
Finally, the winds of change on that bright, clear day last week in Washington opened another door — to broaden the reestablishment of a Jewish community in the UAE and Bahrain. Jews won’t have to conceal their faith to visit these countries. Instead of the destruction of Israel serving as the ideological impetus of the Arab world, the guiding principle offered by the Bahrainis and Emiratis is peace and prosperity. It is not mere policy. It is a plan already being implemented. The peace dividend articulated by the participating countries will manifest itself in young people living and prospering in peace. When words like these filtered through Covid-19 masks worn at the White House, the witnesses knew that leaders were genuinely banking on a future. And that feeling is why this night was different from all other nights.
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith International's statement on the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in its coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice's death.
(September 21, 2020 / JNS) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87 at her home in Washington, D.C.
Ginsburg, a heralded liberal judicial, feminist and Jewish icon who was the second woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, died from “complications of metastatic pancreas cancer,” according to a statementfrom the Supreme Court shortly after her death.
Her passing came on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year 5781, and just six weeks before the Nov. 3 election.
Before her death, Ginsburg was hospitalized numerous times this year, including twice in July. She announced on July 17 that cancer had returned, though had often said that she would remain on the court as long as she was able to do the work.
Joan Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933, to Nathan and Celia Bader in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her older sister, Marylin, died of meningitis at age 6, when Ruth was a baby. Ruth’s mother died shortly before Ginsburg graduated from high school, though having been a significant factor in her education.
She earned her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University on June 23, 1954; a month later, she married Martin D. Ginsburg. One year later, they had a daughter, Jane, before Ruth started law school at Harvard University.
Ginsburg was a standout and one of the few women at Harvard Law School. She later transferred to Columbia Law School, where she jointly graduated first in her class in 1959. However, she had difficulty getting hired directly into a law firm and turned to academia, teaching at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School.
The couple had a son, James, in 1965.
In 1970, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the United States to focus exclusively on women’s rights. Two years later, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and in 1973, she became general counsel of the project.
After working with the American Civil Liberties Union as a volunteer attorney and as a member of its board of directors and a general counsel in the 1970s, in 1980, Ginsburg was nominated by President Jimmy Carter and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is regarded as the second-most powerful court in the United States behind the Supreme Court.
In 1993, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton and confirmed to the Supreme Court, where she served until her death.
Ginsburg spent much of her career fighting for gender equality and women’s rights, winning many arguments before the Supreme Court. During her 40-plus years as a judge and a justice, she was served by 159 law clerks.
A 2018 documentary titled “RBG” became a hit with audiences, as did a feature film that followed, “On the Basis of Sex.”
Attorney Norm Eisen, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, told JNS that Ginsburg was a Jewish icon who personified Jewish values—an ideal Americans should look for in her successor.
“Justice Ginsburg exemplified a core Jewish principle: tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice, justice shall you pursue,” he said. “She understood it was not just a Jewish virtue but an American one.”
“That commitment to justice is, of course, what American Jews and all Americans are looking for in the next justice—much more than ethnicity or religion,” he continued. “That starts with a just manner of choosing that individual. For that reason, Justice Ginsberg’s last wish to let the new president make that choice should be honored.”
Chief Justice John Roberts said: “Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her—a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said shortly after Ginsburg’s death that he plans to fill the vacancy this week, putting forth a woman candidate. Trump has already seated two other Supreme Court justices: Neal Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
Attorney Nathan Lewin, who has argued in front of the Supreme Court, told JNS that Ginsburg “was a dynamic force in eliminating gender discrimination and will have a well-deserved place of honor in American legal history.”
Regarding what’s at stake for the Jewish community over the vacancy, “if you are speaking of the observant Jewish community and protection for religious rights, the future of that community and those rights is now bright,” said Lewin, citing that Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh “are strong defenders of religious liberty.”
‘A champion for civil rights’
Jewish groups expressed condolences over Ginsburg’s death.
The Anti-Defamation League tweeted on Sunday that it “mourns the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazer and judicial giant. She dedicated her life to advocating for a more equitable and just world, and was a true champion for civil rights. May her memory be a blessing.”
In a statement on Sunday, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs said Ginsburg “rose from the humble beginnings of an immigrant Jewish family to become a Supreme Court Justice,” and that as “a lawyer and advocate she fought to change laws and policies that advanced reproductive rights and equality for all.”
“The best way to honor Justice Ginsburg’s life is to continue to fight for equality and to deter the rollback of women’s reproductive rights,” said JCPA president and CEO David Bernstein in the statement. “Her work and legacy live on in our work.”
In a statement the day after Ginsburg’s death, leaders from the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis and Women of Reform Judaism said, “Few people have had as long or as profound an impact upon the course of a nation as did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As an attorney, Justice Ginsburg committed herself to advancing women’s rights at a time when women were denied equal access to educational, employment, economic and other opportunities. Such injustice offended Justice Ginsburg as a woman, but also as a Jew.”
“Indeed, she spoke often of the many ways in which her Jewish upbringing and faith shaped her sense of justice, including the discrimination against Jews that was part of life even in her native New York City during her formative years,” continued the leaders.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement on Sunday, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was in her own words ‘a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew.’ ”
“Justice Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman to serve on the high court, sought to apply the values of her faith in seeking equal justice under law and had a lifelong love for Israel,” continued the Jewish umbrella organization. “She is recognized as among the great jurists in modern history. She never ceased to advocate for gender equality while leading the way for women in the legal profession.”
B’nai B’rith said that Ginsburg “was a giant of the Supreme Court, a champion to many women and others as a strong, progressive voice on the court, with a trailblazing judicial presence. She was courageous in her many battles against cancer.”
Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer said in a statementon Sunday that “Jewish Democrats mourn the enormous loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the most influential and powerful Jewish women to serve our nation. Justice Ginsberg embodied Jewish values including a commitment to tikkun olam, and our tradition’s commandment of ‘justice, justice, you shall pursue,’ which hung in her chambers in Hebrew.”
Soifer went on to say that “Ginsburg’s life was dedicated to ensuring equal protection under the law for all Americans, and we are incredibly grateful for her service.”
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg combined stunning moral clarity with acute legal acumen,” said Democratic Majority for Israel in a statement on Sunday. “All Americans owe her a profound debt of gratitude for her moral leadership, for the example she set as the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court, and for her fierce advocacy of gender equality and justice for all.”
“An iconic trailblazer, Justice Ginsburg worked tirelessly and successfully to make our country more just,” continued DMFI. “A strong supporter of Israel and a lifelong Zionist, she spoke of her inspiration from heroes like Emma Lazarus and Henrietta Szold.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted on Friday, “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer and a great patriot. We, along with all Americans, mourn her passing. May her memory be a blessing.”
In addition to her two children, Ginsburg is survived by four grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She was predeceased by her husband, who died in 2010.
The Algemeiner also quoted our reaction to the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Mazal News (Portugal) covered our attendance of the Abraham Accords signing ceremony and quoted our President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin.
With a presence around the world and fighting for the cause of human rights since 1843, B’nai B’rith International hailed the historic peace agreements signed at the White House today between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain normalizing relations between the three countries. It will now join the peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan as stabilizing influences in the region.
B'nai B'rith President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin were present on the South Lawn for the historic signing. “What we witnessed was something beyond anyone’s imagination just a few years ago,” Kaufman said.
Bahraini Foreign Minister, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Israeli Prime Minister and the USA President all participated in the signing of the Accords.
“Today marked a tremendous turning point in the history of Israel and the Jewish people, and in the Middle East. The signing of the Abraham Accords, and the agreements between Israel and the UAE, and Israel and Bahrain demonstrate that peace can be achieved when there is the good will to achieve it,” Dan Mariaschin said.
B’nai B’rith International is the Global Voice of the Jewish Community.
CEO Op-ed in the Times of Israel: Would San Francisco State University Invite the 9/11 Hijackers to Speak?
The Times of Israel published an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on San Francisco State University's (SFSU) decision to invite Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled to speak at an SFSU-hosted panel.
Like Che Guevara, terrorist Leila Khaled’s notoriety has had a life of its own, largely promoted through her perpetually young visage, wearing an Arafat-style keffiyeh and holding an AK-47 assault rifle which appears on innumerable posters. For sure, there are probably T-shirts and mugs, too, which are worn by, or adorn the shelves of university students and those older than that, who hold her acts of terror in the highest regard. There have been songs written about her, and even a street named after her.
She seems to be in demand as a speaker; not that long ago she was featured on a panel discussion inside the European Union’s parliament building. Europe, the scene of so many acts of terror in recent years, would seem to be a place where an appearance by a true-believer terrorist would have elicited reams of criticism, and calls for the event to be cancelled. Some 60 MEPs did protest the appearance, but it occurred anyway. The program at which she spoke was organized by far-left factions in the parliament, the spokeswoman for one of which praised “the fantastic turnout” and proclaimed, “long live international solidarity.” Only after the event was held did the president of the parliament propose that those engaged in acts of terror be denied access to its premises.
Khaled, who is still a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist organization with roots going back to 1967, has now been invited to appear on a webinar at the end of September, organized by San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies (AMED) program. The topic? “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance.”
Khaled cannot enter the United States, not only because of membership in a State Department-designated terrorist organization, but because she was involved in some of the more noteworthy acts of international terror in the 1960s and 1970s. In February 1969 she was involved in the hijacking to Damascus of TWA flight 840, headed for Tel Aviv from Rome. After landing, the hijackers blew up the front part of the plane.
As noteworthy, a year later, was the hijacking of El Al flight 219, headed from Amsterdam to New York. This time Khaled worked with Patrick Arguello, a Nicaraguan-American connected to the Sandinista movement, which had entered into a “partnership” with the PFLP to carry out both training and terrorist activities. The two had boarded the plane posing as a couple, using forged Honduran passports. In the ensuing commotion, Arguello is said to have rolled a grenade down the aisle of the plane and fired his gun, wounding a flight attendant. Khaled herself was carrying grenades. When the pilot put the plane into a steep nosedive, it threw the hijackers off balance. Arguello was shot and killed by a sky marshal; Khaled was overwhelmed by passengers and held until the plane landed in London. She was jailed in London but was later released in a prisoner-hostage exchange growing out of another PFLP hijacking.
There could have been mass casualties in both hijackings. Khaled was no mere spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. She was armed and clearly willing to bring the planes down, and their hundreds of passengers with them. Her targets were not random. That she chose a flight to Israel on an American airliner, and an El Al flight meant that the great number of passengers were Jewish, and most likely citizens or supporters of Israel.
Over the decades that have passed, there has been a major campaign to glorify Khaled and her terrorist actions. And now, “compassion” has entered the legend. One story circulating over the years is that she was given explicit instructions not to threaten passengers.
But here’s what one passenger, Rodney Khazzam, then a child traveling with his father, pregnant mother, and sister on Flight 219 had to say about Khaled, in a letter to Lynn Mahoney, the president of SFSU:
“Leila Khaled sat just behind me…several minutes into the flight, above the English Channel, Khaled and her partner stood up directly behind us and began her flight of terror. Her intent was to kill every passenger on board, whether by taking the plane down or diverting it to the desert in Jordan…I wonder if any of the hijackers on 9/11 had survived, if 30 years from now it would be considered educational to have one of them lecture young students at a university. Would you express support for a 9/11 hijacker to speak at your school? I fail to see the difference.”
SFSU has responded to this controversy, with a usual rote-sounding defense of free speech. Said a university spokesman: “A university is a marketplace of ideas, and San Francisco State University supports the rights of all individuals to express their viewpoints and other speech protected by law, even when those viewpoints may be controversial.”
Most Americans will defend free speech to the nth degree, but where this argument collapses is that the university is under no obligation to invite everyone who wants to say something to speak at a university forum. Khazzam asks the key question: would the 9/11 hijackers be welcome at SFSU? I sincerely hope not – especially at an institution that is state and federally-funded. Do would-be or actual killers and assassins have anything fundamentally positive to teach us? If we are not able to draw that line, something is terribly askew not only in our American values, but in how a university sees the very basic definition of morality.
Or maybe it’s something more than that. SFSU’s AMED program has a history of support for those who would demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State. Inviting a real, live terrorist to campus – even virtually – is very much in line with AMED’s objectives. And Khaled is not just any terrorist; she’s the one on the poster smiling with her AK-47, with the stripes to show that she actually carried out “heroic” acts such as the TWA and El Al hijackings. The invitation might as well say, “Come one, come all, to hear the real thing expound on her years threatening the lives of innocent civilians.”
SFSU should immediately cancel Khaled’s appearance on the AMED panel on gender, justice and resistance. Is she really a gender role model? Is there justice in carrying (and using) guns and grenades to advance one’s “cause?” And as for resistance, her objective is the destruction of Israel. The logo of the PFLP still includes the map of the Jewish state. Does the university have any reservations about that?
A university surely needs to be a place where students can broaden their intellectual horizons. Hearing from someone who was armed with hand grenades on an airliner flying at 30,000 feet to make a deadly point, should not find a place of welcome in that universe.
Kethimerini covered a virtual discussion of the B’nai B’rith Israel-Hellenic Forum focused on Greece in relation to Israel and Middle East peace.
The accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is set to be signed at the White House today. The ceremony will also be attended by Bahrain, which became the fourth Arab country, after Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, to recognize Israel. Israel, for its part, is stepping back from its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs sees the so-called Abraham Accord as a potentially “major step for the establishment of dialogue and mutual understanding between the peoples of the Middle East” and has also welcomed Bahrain’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The historic deal and its impact on international affairs came to the center of attention during a virtual discussion of B’nai B’rith Israel-Hellenic Forum that the author co-convenes.
It is necessary for Greece to carefully monitor changes in the Middle East landscape. Although the Palestinian cause has not lost support among Arab countries, it arguably is no longer considered a priority. Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and some other Arab states place more emphasis on Iran. This is also the case for the American administration which brokered the Abraham Accord. Greece needs to find a delicate balance between its historical ties with the Palestinians as well as Iran and the new Middle East realities.
Athens continuously supports the prospect of a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, and is aligned with the European Union position on Iran, although it certainly understands Israeli security concerns.
Additionally, Turkey appears highly critical of the normalization of ties between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. In his effort to take the lead in the Muslim world, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is highly concerned about the consolidation of the alignment of other regional powers that might also encompass additional Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia in the future.
This entails both opportunities and risks for the Greek government. While Greece along with Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have some common interests at stake in the Eastern Mediterranean – for example in Libya – the country sometimes gives the impression it is entering an obscure military environment that contradicts its peace-loving philosophy. Another midway solution is required here.
Last but not least, President Donald Trump has shown he is able to score some significant foreign policy points. Whether the Abraham Accord, which was also followed by the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, could be a precursor for a successful mediation in the Eastern Mediterranean remains to be seen. No doubt Trump delivers when he wants to.
Under the circumstances, Greece could intensify its effort to better promote its positions in the US. The momentum after the Abraham Accord favors the effort that should rather aim at both the president and the Congress.
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of Jewish and pro-Israel groups praising the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for signing historic agreements to normalize relations with Israel.
(September 15, 2020 / JNS) WASHINGTON—Jewish and pro-Israel groups applauded the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for signing historic agreements at the White House on Tuesday to normalize relations with Israel, the first Persian Gulf nations to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called the ceremony “a historic event in the advancement of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.”
“Today’s ceremony sends a clear message that it’s a new era for Israeli-Arab relations. Peace in the region is possible through diplomacy, mutual recognition and negotiation,” said AIPAC. “We hope other nations in the Middle East and the Palestinian leadership will follow this inspiring example to bring conflicts in the region to an end and promote prosperity and cooperation.”
“The historic agreements signed today show that peace is on the march and the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict is increasingly an anachronism. Israel is strong and flourishing, and the Arab world is coming to see the Jewish state not as a foe, but as an ally against Iran and a partner for peace and prosperity,” said Christians United for Israel (CUFI) chairman Pastor John Hagee in a statement. “It is my sincere hope and prayer that other Arab nations will follow the UAE and Bahrain’s lead, and that the Palestinian leadership, in particular, will accept that peace with Israel is the only path forward.”
In a statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said that the Abraham Accords “mark the start of a new phase in relations between the Jewish State and the Muslim world. These landmark understandings represent a realignment, a paradigm shift wherein peace is prioritized over conflict. In becoming the third and fourth Arab countries to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel, the UAE and Bahrain lead the way for others to follow.”
President of the American Zionist Movement Richard Heideman told JNS that the occasion was a “historic breakthrough for Israel and her relations with not only the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who have signed agreements today at the White House, but for the future of Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people with all people.”
He added that “we are witnessing another significant achievement on the road to Middle East peace and an important step towards establishing a better day for Israel and all her Arab neighbors. We hope that the day will come when the Palestinian Authority itself will be prepared to achieve a permanent peace with the State of Israel for the benefit of all people in the region.”
Sarah Levin, executive director of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, expressed to JNS hope that these deals are “a meaningful first step towards warm, active relations between Israel and other countries throughout the Middle East region” in that “peace and normalization should be preferred to the alternative, and this exciting development gives us a renewed feeling of hope and optimism.”
“NORPAC strongly applauds the Abraham Accords signing at the White House. The agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain represent a diplomatic breakthrough for the Middle East and a remarkable achievement in United States diplomacy,” the organization’s executive director, Avi Schranz, told JNS. “These agreements will serve to further halt Iran’s aggression and improve Israel’s security.”
“The Abraham Accords show the world that Jews and Arabs can live, work and grow together in the Middle East,” he continued. “The leaders of Israel, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the UAE have taken this bold step forward, and it’s our sincere hope that this fast-tracks peace in the Middle East between Israel and all Arab neighbors.”
B’nai B’rith International Daniel Mariaschin emphasized to JNS that the “importance of today’s signing ceremony cannot be overstated,” and that the Arab-Israeli conflict “is becoming undone one country at a time. This holds great promise for Israel and its neighbors, but also sends an unmistakable message to those who desire to undermine normalization that the future is not in their hands.”
American Sephardi Federation executive director Jason Guberman told JNS that the signing ceremony “reasserted the classical Middle Eastern values of moderation, pluralism and future-mindedness by recognizing the rightful place of Israel in the region.”
“The Middle East is the heartland of Jewish history, the home to our prophets, historical and holy sites,” he said. “Greater Sephardic Jews, whose roots are in Muslim lands and now constitute more than 50 percent of Israel’s population, were once one of a plethora of peoples who made Cairo, Tyre, Aleppo and Baghdad bustling hubs for trade and innovation.”
‘A potential security risk’
Not all Jewish and pro-Israel groups were as positive about the development.
“While we welcome openings between Israel and Gulf states, we see the signing ceremony for what it is—a recklessly planned foreign-policy stunt driven first and foremost by Trump’s political calculations, and a potential security risk to Israel given Trump’s reported plans to sell advanced fighter jets to the UAE,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, in a statement.
While the Israel-UAE deal calls for cooperation in areas such as tourism, commerce and health care, Israel has objected to the United States giving F-35s to the UAE.
However, in a statement, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said that the Emirati and Bahraini normalization deals with Israel demonstrate that “the countries of the region are moving towards real peace with Israel,” and that following “decades of failed diplomacy and bloodshed, the Middle East is at the dawn of a historic moment when Israel and its neighbors will benefit from cooperation in trade, security, technology, and other fields that will make life better for all the peoples of the region.”
Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told JNS that the Abraham Accords “debunked” the “conventional orthodoxy of Israeli-Arab relations that all roads must go through Ramallah.”
“For years, standard operating procedure in terms of Israeli-Arab relations in general and for the Palestinians in particular has been rooted in rejectionism and anti-normalization,” he said. “The [Palestine Liberation Organization’s] goal of maintaining the Palestinian question as the essential ingredient to all Israeli-Arab relations has been eroding since 1979.”
Moreover, said Romirowsky, the signing of the accords “should finally convince the Palestinians that notwithstanding their diplomatic temper tantrums, their strategy of insisting that all peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries be conditioned on a prior agreement between the PLO and Israel has failed.”
The Times of Israel quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of Jewish and pro-Israel groups praising the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for signing historic agreements to normalize relations with Israel.
American Jewish organizations are praising the normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, signed at the White House earlier today.
The American Jewish Committee says: “The peace agreements between Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE have flipped conventional wisdom on its head.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who attended the signing, says in a statement: “I thank President Trump’s administration for its leadership in brokering these accords. The bold initiatives undertaken by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates His Highness Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and King of Bahrain His Majesty Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in forging this new path toward peace will usher in a new era of regional stability, prosperity, and opportunity.”
The leaders of B’nai B’rith, also guests at the event, say it was “unforgettable.”
“What we witnessed was something beyond anyone’s imagination just a few years ago,” its president, Charles O. Kaufman, says. “The historic signing of the Abraham Accords and treaties was less about hope and promise and more about reality and what is happening in real time. It is more about creating real opportunities, advancements, innovations, not some platform for mere dreams and aspirations. Finally, promises and failures of the past gave way to a far better option — trusting, respecting parties developing a specific plan for prosperity, security and peace. Today was an unforgettable day of accomplishment.”
“Today marked a tremendous turning point in the history of Israel and the Jewish people, and in the Middle East,” adds its CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin. “The signing of the Abraham Accords, and the agreements between Israel and the UAE, and Israel and Bahrain demonstrate that peace can be achieved when there is the good will to achieve it.”
Jewish Insider quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in an article centered on Austrian Ambassador to the U.S. Martin Weiss and Weiss' career as an Austrian diplomat.
Ambassador Martin Weiss is a familiar face in both Washington and Tel Aviv.
Fresh off a posting as Austria’s top diplomat to Israel, Weiss was installed as the country’s ambassador to the U.S. early this year. And he is equally comfortable sitting at a Passover seder in Washington or working out with his Tel Aviv triathlon club. His Twitter presence includes photos from meetings in Washington, commentary on travel and retweets of Israeli journalists and Jewish communal leaders.
To the surprise of some, Weiss is not Jewish — but Catholic. “I’m still looking for my Jewish great-great grandmother,” he joked. “I haven’t found her yet.”
Weiss, 57, has spent his adult life representing Austria around the world. But early in his career, after a junior-level posting in New York, he leveraged a connection with Austria’s ambassador in Washington for an Embassy position as a science counselor. In Washington, he worked closely with the Jewish community and befriended staffers working for a range of organizations including the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International and AIPAC. It was during a stint in Washington in the ’90s that he attended his first Passover seder, at the home of Rabbi Andrew Baker, then AJC’s European director.
“This is what happens in all of our lives, whether you know it or don’t,” Weiss told Jewish Insider during a three-hour conversation at the Austrian ambassadorial residence. “Little seeds are planted in your brain, and it might come to something or not. But at the time, I thought it would be interesting one day to be posted to Israel.”
Weiss’s career path is deeply rooted in his family’s story. His maternal grandfather, born into an aristocratic Nuremberg family in Germany, spoke Chinese, Dutch and Malay, among other languages. He worked overseas for a Dutch trading company and married Weiss’s grandmother in China, where the ambassador’s mother was born.
Weiss and his two older siblings grew up on their grandfather’s stories about being a soldier, then 17 years old, during World War I in Ukraine. The stories fascinated Weiss and embedded in him a desire to see more of the world.
Under pressure to be closer to home, Weiss’s grandfather relocated the family from China to Germany just before the start of World War II. (His mother, then a child, would later tell Weiss of oranges being brought aboard at port to mitigate scurvy during the two-month journey by ship.)
In his early 40s at the outset of the war, Weiss’s grandfather was drafted in the Germany army but given administrative rather than front-line work due to his age. He was close to those in the orbit of Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the leading members of a 1944 plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. After the plot failed, Weiss’s grandfather burned relevant papers, evading detection and potential arrest, Weiss said. At the Nuremberg trials held after the war, Weiss’s grandfather interpreted documents as part of a research team. Weiss’s mother would recount to him the shock that her father, who died in 1994 at age 97, expressed after seeing the evidence. “To us kids, he never spoke about this,” Weiss said.
Weiss’s parents met and lived in Germany until his father — a professor of modern German literature — received a job offer, which came with Austrian citizenship, from the University of Salzburg. Weiss and his siblings grew up there, and he recalled regularly getting lost in deep conversations over lunch when their father came home from work.
None of the kids competed with their father on literary matters. “He was too big for that,” Weiss said. “My father was a very critical thinker, so any topic of discussion was fair game. He loved the give-and-take.”
Weiss and his siblings followed the faith of their father — an open-minded “good Catholic” — who was hurt if they skipped Sunday mass. Weiss’s maternal grandfather was a Protestant, who “knew his Bible inside out,” but would attend mass in Salzburg during which Mozart, who was born in the city, was performed. “He would say, ‘You know, this is actually quite beautiful,’” Weiss recounted.
For his part, Weiss keeps a Bible, which he knows well, on his bed stand. “It talks to me,” he said. “For my children, it’s already a bit removed, but for me it’s something I think that’s still important.”
Given the role religion plays in his own life, Weiss appreciates the Jewish practices he observed in Israel. In its divergence from Catholic tradition, the idea of shiva fascinated him in the way so many come for a week to share stories with mourners. “You need more time than just one evening,” he said. He was also touched by other Jewish mourning rituals, including the act of shoveling dirt onto a simple casket, and of kriyah, when mourners tear their garments.
Weiss arrived in Israel in October 2015, fresh off three years as the ambassador to Cyprus. His four years in Tel Aviv were enjoyable, he told JI, and he often tried to break out of the “diplomatic bubble” to experience the country outside of meetings and formal events.
One Yom Kippur, when Israel’s normally busy roads were silent, save for the occasional car, he and his wife set out at 6 a.m. to bike from their home outside Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, some 40 miles away. They saw little jackals on the deserted highway; nature reclaims urban spaces both amid pandemic and on High Holidays.
Upon approaching Jerusalem, they found a hotel — with its bar closed due to the holiday — and used the bathroom tap to refill their water bottles before setting off back to Tel Aviv. Luckily, the return was downhill; roundtrip took six hours. “It was a day to remember,” Weiss said.
Weiss now bikes in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. An avid triathloner, he awaits post-coronavirus races, recalling proudly his third-place finish in his last Israeli triathlon at Gan Shmuel, a kibbutz with such stunning views of the Mediterranean that he says he wished he’d grown up there. (The fellow runner he knocked to fourth wasn’t thrilled to meet at the finish line, though.) The triathlon club that he joined during his posting to Israel provided a refreshing change of pace that gave him the opportunity to meet “a complete Israeli society from all kinds of life.”
Weiss’s unorthodox social media presence provides a peek into both his professional life and his off hours. His conversational Twitter and Instagram feeds reflect nationwide travel and interactions with different facets of Israeli society. In one caption, he noted how yeshiva boys hang their black hats on hooks pre-study; another offers the insider tip to “drop everything and go” when invited to a Jewish wedding. On Twitter, he responds to critics who are quick to pounce on everything from event invitations to the language used on a controversial subject.
When he arrived in Israel, many advised him to avoid Twitter, a platform where the likelihood to offend is high. But Weiss wanted to be relevant, which meant responsive. “You cannot just throw out messages and never answer if someone criticizes you,” he said. When people ask, “What the hell do you actually do as an ambassador?” he refers them to Twitter. “It allows me to tell a story in a way I couldn’t have before if I only write secret cables to Vienna. Then I have an audience of 50.”
During his tenure in Israel, Weiss represented “everything one might look for in a senior diplomat,” said Avi Mayer, AJC’s managing director of global communications, who met regularly with Weiss over lunches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. “In addition to maintaining close working relationships with top Israeli officials, Martin went out of his way to get to know regular Israelis of all backgrounds, giving him a better-rounded view of Israel than many diplomats have of their host countries.”
Weiss proved deeply curious about all aspects of Israeli life. “I can think of few foreign ambassadors who left as profound an impression on so many Israelis as Martin did,” Mayer said.
Weiss’s peers agreed. “Martin Weiss made a supremely positive impression on Israelis as Austria’s ambassador to Israel,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. “Warm, empathetic, committed to engage with Israelis of every background, mindful of history, and devoted to strengthening Austrian-Israel ties in multiple fields, he was seen as a true friend whose indefatigable efforts benefitted both countries,” added Shapiro, now a distinguished visiting fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Daniel Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, first met Weiss to discuss the Middle East and Holocaust-related issues during the diplomat’s initial D.C. posting. “I always found him to not only have an interest in these subjects, but a keen sensitivity to our concerns, as well,” Mariaschin said. “He was always mindful of the fate of Austrian Jewry, a community that had contributed so much to Austrian cultural life before its near-total destruction during the Holocaust.” The two have remained in touch, and Mariaschin said it’s good to have Weiss back in D.C., “not only because of his knowledge of our community here and in Europe, but also because of our mutual interest in maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic relationship.”
Baker, now director of international Jewish affairs at AJC, and the one who hosted Weiss — then a young diplomat — for a Passover seder more than two decades ago, counts the ambassador as a friend. “He represents personally the kind of changes that have taken place politically in Austria,” he said.
Until 1995, Austria hadn’t formally accepted its role in the Holocaust, and continued to perpetuate the “myth” of being Hitler’s first victim, Baker said. The young Weiss displayed a then-rare interest in Jews and Judaism, and a different way of thinking about Austria’s past. While some diplomats feel put on the spot in meetings with Jewish communities, or place those connections in the rearview mirror after their postings ended, it was different for Weiss.
“For some, I think, it was transformative,” Baker said. “Martin was one of those people who genuinely wanted to understand and connect with the Jewish community.”
When Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz formed a government in 2017 with Austria’s Freedom Party — which if not antisemitic at least has a number of antisemites in the foreground, Baker said — many Jews were concerned. But Kurz said he would double down on the Austrian-Israeli relationship — and he did, Baker said, with Weiss at the forefront.
“He really did have a feeling for Jews, Judaism and Israel,” Baker said of Weiss’s posting in Israel. “He was able to do that in a way that someone else couldn’t. People were understanding of his sincerity.”
In 2018, Kurz addressed AJC’s Global Forum in Jerusalem. “He declared Israel’s security to be part of his country’s Staatsräson, or highest national interest,” AJC’s Mayer said. “He made history, becoming the first Austrian leader to make such a profound commitment to the Jewish state.” Backstage, Weiss was “beaming with the knowledge that he had played a meaningful part in making it happen,” Mayer said. (Weiss said he didn’t want to overstate his role in a collaborative effort, but he was glad to see the Austrian chancellor on the stage in Israel with David Harris, AJC’s executive director. “I’m sure it was a very happy day,” he said.)
During a trip to Yad Vashem on that same visit, a guide told Kurz that Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party — of which Kurz is not a member — has politicians “that need to be explained what the Holocaust was,” The Times of Israel reported at the time. Yad Vashem later apologized to Weiss, who declined to comment publicly at the time. But to Jewish Insider, Weiss reflected on the impossible position in which the guide — whom he knows and respects — put the chancellor.
“A chancellor has to be ready for anything. Even if they throw a cake in his face, he has to be able to say something about this. This is who he is. He chose the public office,” Weiss said. But, echoing Ecclesiastes, he said everything has a time and place.
“You cannot have a political discussion with a foreign chancellor in front of 100 people and the media, cameras running,” he said. “What is he supposed to say? Whatever he says is wrong. He can either ignore you; that’s wrong. He can engage in an argument; that’s awkward. You’re at a place of commemoration, not a university seminar.”
Talking to journalists is something Weiss enjoys. Whereas some of his colleagues avoid it emphatically, he has volunteered for communications roles throughout his career. In more than three hours of conversation, he only flagged a single sentence — about the leader of a country — as off-the-record.
The interview setting provides some insight into Weiss’s personality and worldview. The three-story mansion with a Mediterranean-revival façade — designed by noted Washington architect Appleton P. Clarke in 1926 — in the district’s posh Kalorama neighborhood projects an air of gravitas. The mansion belonged to a former U.S. diplomat before Austria purchased it in 1959 for its ambassadorial residence.
Inside the home, which he shares with his wife, the design is anything but severe. Pastel-colored, semi-abstract Israeli landscapes painted by friends of Weiss flank a grand staircase, and wood paneling in the dining room frames nine fruit-themed, pop-styled paintings by Weiss’s daughter, a Vienna-based designer. (Weiss’s son, a computer scientist, also lives in Vienna.) In a sitting room, colorful glass jellyfish, designed by Weiss’s sister-in-law, dangle from an ornate chandelier.
At one point, Weiss went downstairs and returned with a small glass case with a six-branched candelabrum, twisting above a circular base on a blue-purple velvet ground. The mini sculpture was an award from Yad Vashem based on a work on its grounds (forming its logo) by late artist Zohara Schatz; the branches symbolize the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Weiss set the award — gifted to him at the end of his posting in Israel — on a credenza beside a Baroque clock and a sculpture of a man on horseback, a gift from his grandfather’s days in China. “Presented to H.E. Ambassador Martin Weiss with gratitude and appreciation for your commitment and dedication to Holocaust remembrance and Yad Vashem,” an inscription noted.
At Yad Vashem, his first official visit after being appointed, Weiss learned the museum was having difficulty securing Austrian archival materials due to data-protection concerns. “It took me almost three years,” he said, but by the end of his tenure, the museum had obtained the materials.
Weiss is encouraged by the recently announced peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and is hopeful that Israel will be able to come to similar agreements with other countries in the region. He recalled “huge upheaval” and hours spent waiting in Lebanon — which typically does not allow entry to individuals who have been to Israel — after customs officials saw an Israeli stamp in his son’s passport.
“Look at the food. Look at the people. There is so much,” he said. “It’s such bullshit. It’s so good that now there can be a UAE ambassador in Israel. It’s historic.” Weiss also thinks President Donald Trump deserves credit for a Middle East peace vision many dismissed as pipe dream. “You have to give him that, like him or hate him,” he said.
Weiss has had nearly a year to acclimate to his new surroundings in Washington. But he still closely follows the news in Israel. His time there exposed Weiss to “throwback stories” about medieval pogroms one would read in the Israeli dailies, which, he said, suggest to Jewish readers that the world — and the European Union in particular — is out to get them. His experience, alternatively, has been that Europe is eager to partner with Israel.
“To paint us constantly as these schmucks, these left-wing antisemites,” he said. “Our discussion is so different. This is something where I would say, ‘Just exhale.’”
Weiss hopes the tourist exchanges between Austria and Israel, which proliferated pre-pandemic, will pick up where they left off, along with academic and other partnerships. Given the proximity, he suggested, Austrians and Israelis should experience more of each other’s cultures. “If you think of August in Israel, it’s hot, hot, hot. Wouldn’t it be perfect to go to the mountains in Austria?” Weiss said. “I think in both directions, there’s a lot of impetus, history and food. It’s so funny that schnitzel is the favorite food in Israel!”
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of Bahrain agreeing to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.
(September 11, 2020 / JNS) Jewish and pro-Israel groups instantly applauded Israel and Bahrain for agreeing on Friday to normalize relations between the two countries—the second of its kind between Israel and a Persian Gulf nation in the wake of the United Arab Emirates.
It’s also the fourth peace accord between Israel and a Middle Eastern country, following Egypt in 1979, Jordan in 1994 and the UAE, which agreed to such a deal on Aug. 13 and is scheduled to formalize it in a White House ceremony on Tuesday.
Bahrain will also be part of the ceremony, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani will sign a declaration of peace, according to a joint statement released by the United States, Bahrain and Israel.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweeted that the agreement is “Another HISTORIC breakthrough,” spoke on Friday with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa and Netanyahu, who called the agreement “a pivot of history, a pivot toward peace.”
Between Israel and Bahrain, they will exchange ambassadors, have direct flights and launch economic initiatives, said Trump in the Oval Office shortly after announcing the deal.
It is currently unknown where the Bahraini embassy in Israel will be located. Most countries have embassies in Tel Aviv. The United States and Guatemala are the only ones to have theirs in Jerusalem, both having relocated there in May 2018. The Emirati one will be in Tel Aviv.
The full details of the Israel-Bahrain deal have yet to be announced.
‘A very auspicious moment’
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called the development “another historic demonstration of a new promising era in Israeli-Arab relations.”
“These diplomatic achievements are a testament to the fact that a strong and secure Israel, backed by the United States, is critical to bringing reconciliation to the region,” said AIPAC in a statement. “The old and unproductive paradigm of boycotts and rejectionism is collapsing, and a new model of peace, prosperity and cooperation is emerging.”
“Now is the time for other countries in the region and the Palestinian leadership to embrace this model, and cement new ties and forge lasting peace and security in the Middle East,” continued AIPAC.
“Historically, sustainable Arab-Israel peace agreements have been achieved with active United States leadership. The back-to-back agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and now Bahrain, were achieved with the full engagement of the U.S. administration,” said American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris. “We thank President Trump and his team who saw these possibilities, and welcome the winds of change in the Middle East that lay the foundation for greater peace, cooperation and prosperity.”
Jewish Council for Public Affairs president and CEO David Bernstein told JNS that his organization “could not be more pleased that Bahrain and Israel are normalizing relations. This is a very auspicious moment for Israel and the prospects for peace in the Middle East.”
Jewish groups from both sides of the political aisle applauded the development.
“Bahrain’s decision to normalize relations with Israel demonstrates the growing conviction in the region that now is the time to set aside old conflicts, stand united against the threat of Iran, and engage in economic, technological, scientific and cultural cooperation with Israel that will improve the lives of all the peoples of the Middle East,” said Republican Jewish Coalition national chairman former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) in a statement.
Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman told JNS, “From Bahrain and the UAE to Chad and Malawi, countries once at best skeptical of Israel are turning into friends. We salute the wisdom of all these countries in recognizing both the mutual benefits of strong ties with Israel, and Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in peace and security.”
“Bahrain’s decision to normalize relations with Israel is yet another positive indicator that change in the region is moving in a welcome, positive direction,” B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel Mariaschin told JNS. “The UAE, and now Bahrain, are sending a strong and unmistakable message that peace and stability in the region are indeed reachable.”
Sarah Stern, founder and president of Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), called Friday’s development “yet another indication of the blossoming of warm relations between Israel and the Sunni Gulf states that had been up until now ‘under the table.’ ”
The new development “shows that these Arab partners understand and appreciate that the Jewish state is not going anywhere, that Israel is here to stay; that they have a tremendous amount that they can share and learn from Israel, in terms of high tech, cybersecurity, water irrigation and agriculture, and in the age of COVID-19, medicine,” she said.
At least since 2019, Bahrain has been improving its diplomatic relations with Israel. In June of that year, it hosted the “Peace to Prosperity” conference, where the United States released the economic component of its Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. The following August, Bahrain joined the U.S.-led coalition against to protect shipping in the Gulf against Iran.
Along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain opened its airspace last week to allow flights between Israel and the UAE.
This week, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain agreed to open their airspace to flights east from Israel.
‘A sea change of attitudes’
Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told JNS that the Bahrain-Israel normalization deal is a loss for two of Israel’s enemies—Palestinian leadership and the BDS movement—and that U.S. President Donald Trump “deserves the Nobel Peace Prize,” which the president was formally nominated for this week for brokering the Israel-UAE peace deal.
American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen told JNS, “The more Islamic countries that make peace with Israel, the less impact the Palestinian terrorist dictatorship’s anti-Semitic propaganda lies and the BDS movement against Israel will impact. We are witnessing a sea change of attitudes: the Israel-UAE agreement, the decision of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to allow Israeli flights to use their airspace, the refusal of the Arab League to condemn the Israel-UAE accord.”
American Sephardi Federation executive director Jason Guberman told JNS that the Emirati and Bahraini normalization deals with Israel exemplify “a new era, but one rooted in history.”
“Muslims and Jews, as in centuries past, will once again be able to channel their considerable talents and resources into projects that will benefit all of humanity,” he said. “For the Greater Sephardic community, these developments are at once historic and personal in ways that may be difficult for others to understand. With shared roots in the region and [those] who have in recent memory experienced the trauma of exile, it is deeply moving to see one Arab country after another welcome them, in freedom and friendship, to be fully Jewish.”
“Acceptance of Israel and its integration into the Middle East is a positive development for regional stability, for American interests, and no less importantly, for Israelis not being unfairly ostracized by other states,” said Israel Policy Forum in a statement. “We hope that Bahrain’s addition to the list of Arab states that have open and official relations with Israel paves the way for more such developments in the months and years ahead.”
At last, “the walls of isolation around Israel are crumbling,” Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations told JNS.
Even J Street, which is usually highly critical of Israel, welcomed the deal.
“As with the UAE agreement, this is a positive development. Here is some context on the long history of Bahrain-Israel relations, from [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak] Rabin under Oslo [in the 1990s] to today,” tweeted J Street. “And while normalization is welcome, real *peace* requires an agreement that resolves the issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and leads to the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.”
JNS published an op-ed by former B'nai B'rith International President Richard D. Heideman, current President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin two decades after the infamous Durban Conference introducing a year-long series of programs under the banner “Durban20: Hate Revisited.”
(September 7, 2020 / JNS) Nineteen years ago this week, thousands of seemingly well-meaning people from around the world traveled to what appeared to be the end of the earth—Durban, South Africa—to participate in the World Conference on Racism, with the idea of stamping out the timeless evil of discrimination and racism. As the world was turning the page on a new millennium, ending racism failed to happen in Durban. Quite to the contrary, the gathering built a foundation for taking racism and anti-Semitism into a new global orbit, one built on weaponizing hate against Israel, one of the smallest countries in the world, but home to 42 percent of the world’s 15 million Jews.
We went to Durban with high hopes that on the grounds of the U.N. NGO (nongovernmental organization) Forum, and at the U.N. World Conference itself, we would work with people from all walks of life to seek a better day, a more honest day, a less maligning day, for all people committed to stamping out racism, anti-Semitism, hatred and intolerance.
However, in Durban in 2001, a Jewish leadership delegation led by B’nai B’rith International, encountered not a world conference committed to ending racism and discrimination, but an ugly “hate-fest.”
Its legacy continues. How did this happen and why? And what did this conference teach about the world’s proclaimed desire to end racism and discrimination?
Those who hate Israel, Zionism and Jews continue to taint the view that Zionism is the legitimate movement of the Jewish people to reestablish themselves in their ancient homeland. If other people sought to do so, they would be praised. But because it is the Jewish people, we and Israel are maligned and accused of being an apartheid, racist, criminal state.
One way to eliminate hate is to confront it, and two decades after the Durban Conference, B’nai B’rith International, a global organization founded in 1843, and one of the first NGOs at the United Nations in 1947, is planning a year-long series of programs under the banner “Durban20: Hate Revisited” in the 20th year since the Jewish delegation walked out of the Conference.
“Durban20: Hate Revisited” events will occur in world capitals, at the United Nations, in Washington and with an outreach to select colleges and universities throughout the world to deliver clarity and context to people about the ills of hate, intolerance, discrimination, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and, in general, anti-Israel attitudes.
We will examine the Durban Conference with live events, through an array of teleconferencing, traditional and digital media. Petitions are being readied for global circulation. The lessons of discrimination and racism, the lessons that Durban failed to teach, never end by advancing or manufacturing further hate. The year-long campaign will teach how equating Zionism to racism was historically inaccurate, politically ill-conceived and morally wrong.
What Durban failed to articulate were true and well-established causes for hate. Zionism, the right for a Jewish nation to live in its ancestral homeland, does nothing to fuel racism. Israel, since gaining recognition by the United Nations in 1947 and modern statehood in 1948, has more friends in the world today than enemies, though you would never know it from the repetitious votes singling out Israel in the United Nations General Assembly, the U.N. Human Rights Council or at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The 193 nations in the UNGA don’t seem to put much credence in the U.N.’s Global Innovation Index, which ranks Israel in its Top 10.
For 72 years, the modern State of Israel has thrived, unlike countries that wish to destroy it, as a diverse, multicultural and pluralistic nation. The frustrated designs of its detractors have failed so much that relations with the Jewish homeland represent a greater hope for social and economic stability than its destruction would create.
The “hate-fest” in Durban, which occurred during the Second Intifada, when terrorist bombers wearing suicide vests attacked buses, restaurants, shopping malls and family gatherings, sought to change the world by demeaning Israel and Jews in a war of explosive, inflammatory and weaponized words and acts. Look at the world today. In the face of animus toward Israel, in spite of the hateful rhetoric, many countries have decided they have less reason to hate and more to gain by building bridges with Israel than to violate its borders. The United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states recognize this reality, as do countries in the eastern Mediterranean and most Western countries, above all the United States.
A complicated, dangerous world is better off when nations in the Middle East envision a time of cooperation, even normalization, with Israel. They understand the value of collaborating with Israel, a country recognized for technological advancements that improve life for all.
The Durban Conference became an extension of events from 1975, when Israel’s ancient enemies gave rise to the catchy phrase of “isms” as a means to demean and destroy the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Despite the repeal of the Zionism=Racism measure in 1991, the wave of hate in Durban attempted to smoke Israel’s supporters out with words, much like Gazans are attempting to do with their ongoing launching of incendiary terror devices, targeting not only Jewish communities inside Israel, but also the trees, forests, recreational areas and natural habitats for wildlife that Israel nurtures and preserves.
At Durban, the roadmap was paved for launching and promoting the terrorist organizations’-backed Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. It is a notion that fails and actually has only served to hurt the economic interests of the Palestinians. Israel remains committed to achieving long-term security and peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. To accomplish such a reality, however, requires a commitment to stamping out hate, intolerance, discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism.
Fighting hate and discrimination cannot be done by fomenting further hate and discrimination. It is time for clarity and truth, not lies and false narratives. It is time for a commitment by all people to strive for a better day for all people, built on respect for differences and the dignity of all men, women and children on earth. “Durban20: Hate Revisited” begins today.
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