B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin responded to the increasingly violent situation in northern Syria as a result of the U.S. withdrawal of troops from the area to JNS.org.
The sudden decision of U.S. President Donald Trump last week to withdraw its forces from northern Syria, effectively taking them out of the country and putting them elsewhere in the Mideast, led to an immediate invasion by Turkish forces marked by violence.
Rallies have taken place in Israel and Europe in support of the Kurds, and accusing Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of terrorism.
The volatile Mideast situation has also led to national concern among the pro-Israel and Jewish community, with some saying that the move will have major ramifications for Israel.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the move in a resolution that passed with a vote of 354-60.
On Thursday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo traveled to Turkey to meet with Erdoğan about the situation, which has caused hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced and dozens in what critics have called a betrayal of U.S. allies, including the Kurds and Israel. After a five-hour meeting, Erdoğan agreed to a ceasefire. He was scheduled to continue on to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about regional security.
“We have been watching the unfolding events in Syria regarding the Kurdish community with horror and anguish,” said David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, which is scheduled to hold a solidarity rally in New York on Oct. 18 for the Syrian Kurds.
“Innocent lives are being lost as we speak, while the U.S. government turns its back and the U.N. Security Council is rendered impotent by Turkey’s and Syria’s friends,” continued Harris. “The Kurds have stood up when we needed them most. Now it’s our turn to stand up. History teaches us to be counted—to say, in Hebrew, ‘Hineini,’ or ‘Here I am.’ ”
In fact, Turkish forces are responsible for killing at least 200 civilians and for displacing more than 200,000 people.
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin told JNS that he believes Israel will continue to defend itself regardless of Trump’s moves.
“Predating these developments, Israel has been constantly concerned about Iranian and Hezbollah presence in both Syria and Lebanon, and will most certainly continue to act in its own interests in defending its land and its people,” he told JNS.
The Republican Jewish Coalition declined to comment specifically on Trump’s latest move, though RJC executive director Matt Brooks told JNS via email, “I think it is a mistake to try to bring Israel into the debate about the administration’s policy in Syria, even though many are trying to do so. In reality, there is no evidence to suggest that Trump would ever consider backing away from our relationship with Israel.”
“President Trump has a warm spot for Israel in his heart; he knows how vital it is as an important strategic partner of the U.S. and how critical they are in our efforts to ensure Iran never gets a nuclear weapon,” he continued. “There is a reason that President Trump is widely seen here and abroad as the most pro-Israel president in history, and that reason is because he has demonstrated not by word but by action his commitment to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Sarah Stern, founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), disagreed with Brooks.
“The withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria constitutes an almost irredeemable black stain on American foreign policy,” she told JNS. “There are over 11,000 graves that are filled with the bodies of Kurds who made the ultimate sacrifice in fighting together with us against ISIS,” and therefore “this constitutes a profound betrayal of our ally and comrade-in arms, the Kurds, making it infinitely more difficult for anyone to trust us and support us in battle for many years to come.”
In terms of the foreign-policy ramifications, she said, “It undoubtedly makes the region and the entire world exponentially more dangerous. It has empowered Erdoğan, who has allied himself with Hamas, as well as empowered the constellation of the Iranian mullahs: [Vladimir] Putin’s Russia and Bashar Assad of Syria.”
“The Kurds, who are valiant fighters, together with the U.S. forces, had constituted a roadblock in the Shi’ite land bridge stretching from Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut,” she continued. “Now, this opens up the door for the hegemonic aspirations of the Iranians, together with their patrons Assad and Putin. Turkey and Iran are now at play as to who controls Syria and anything that destabilizes the region makes it that much less safe for Israel.”
Yaakov Menken of the Coalition of Jewish Values told JNS, “I think it remains to be seen. Certainly, the initial reaction is very negative—wanting to avoid endless wars is not a reason to abandon friends and allies to a hateful adversary. But as far as Israel, some argue that the Turks will prevent Iranian weapons from reaching Hezbollah via Syria, which is a good thing.”
“So while it’s terrible for the Kurds in the area Turkey wants to claim [the main Kurdish area is in Iraq], I think it goes too far to say it undermines his pro-Israel stance,” he said.
‘‘One of region’s few stable areas thrown back into chaos’
Some of Trump’s most ardent backers in the evangelical Christian community are expressing their concerns as well. Many have spoken out strongly on behalf of Christian minorities in the Middle East, who have been targeted ISIS and Turkey in the past. In recent history, the Kurds have fought alongside or provided a safe haven for Middle East Christians in Syria and Iraq.
“We cannot sit idly by as a radical Islamist strongman, who backs terrorists like Hamas, engages in the slaughter of our stalwart allies the Kurds,” said CUFI founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee in a statement, referring to Erdoğan. “Nor can we be silent as this totalitarian threatens Middle Eastern Christians.”
“The short-term consequence of the U.S. pullback from Syria will be a humanitarian disaster that pushes the Kurds into the arms of our adversaries,” he continued. “In the long term, an emboldened Turkey will have direct negative consequences for Israel, as well as America’s standing among allies around the world.”
Another Christian pro-Israel group, the Philos Project, said Christians are missing the point in criticizing the withdrawal.
“Trump made a big mistake, but I think some Christian leaders are putting their emphasis on the wrong point,” the organization’s founder and executive director, Robert Nicholson, told JNS.
“I’ve heard several evangelicals lamenting the plight of the Kurds, who have an actual army and long history of fighting the Turkish government, while the real problem with Trump’s sudden exit from Syria is less about the Kurds than about the Christians,” he said. “The Turks and Kurds have a beef that has nothing to do with us, or the Syriac and Assyrian followers of Jesus who are caught between them.”
He continued, “Israel isn’t happy because one of the region’s few stable areas is now thrown back into chaos. Americans should be bothered by that, but they should be even more bothered that their president handed over a Christian safe zone to Turkey—the country that has killed more Christians in the last century than any other in the Middle East.”
The Religious Action Center, the Reform movement’s political arm, condemned the withdrawal.
“The humanitarian crisis triggered by President Trump’s sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Turkish-Syrian border is senseless, painful, and must end,” said RAC director Rabbi Jonah Pesner. “For years, the Kurdish people in the region have worked closely with U.S. forces to oppose ISIS. Now their suffering has captured the world’s attention as they are subjected to a Turkish military assault that violates basic human rights and dignity, and threatens to further destabilize a region already ravaged by violence. The United States’ complicity in this loss of life and devastation is shameful.”
“The Jewish people know the peril of being abandoned by the international community,” he continued. “And the ancient words of Leviticus demand that we not stand idly by as our neighbor bleeds. We will not be silent as the administration forsakes the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.”
JNS.org cited B'nai B'rith International's response to the news of U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)'s impending retirement.
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) announced on Thursday that she won’t seek re-election next year, following a three-decade-long career in Congress as a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“As the chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee that writes the foreign-aid bill, I have advanced record funding for women’s health and basic education, especially for girls, around the world, a strong U.S.-Israel relationship with bipartisan support and other investments that support American interests abroad,” she said in a statement.
Lowey, one of 25 Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives—all of whom have called for the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump’s—has been a fixture at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference as a prominent supporter of Israel on Capitol Hill.
Members of the Jewish and pro-Israel community expressed their appreciation for Lowey, who became the first female chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee after the Democrats won the House majority in the 2018 midterm elections.
Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top stories“Nita Lowey has been a tireless and invaluable champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told JNS. “That bond has grown tremendously, thanks largely to her transformative leadership, support and stewardship of security aid through the Congress each year.”
AIPAC’s rival, J Street, expressed disappointment, but appreciation.
“We are sad that Chairwoman Lowey will not seek re-election, but are delighted for her and her family as she completes a distinguished career in the House of Representatives,” its director of communications, Logan Bayroff, told JNS. “We are grateful for her lifelong championship of robust U.S. diplomacy and aid, multilateral cooperation, a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and for her leadership in the quest for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her counsel and tireless work on these and so many other issues of importance to America’s place in the world will be missed.”
“Congress is losing one of its most impactful members and greatest supporters of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. There is no doubt that @NitaLowey will be missed,” tweeted William Daroff, senior vice president of public policy at the Jewish Federations of North America.
“Chairwoman Lowey has been a champion of liberal values including a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Her legislative know how is unparalleled and her accomplishments legion,” Democratic Majority for Israel president Mark Mellman told JNS. “While we will miss her in Washington; the mark she has made here and in New York is indelible.”
“For the past three decades, Chairwoman Nita Lowey has proudly represented her constituents, which include a considerable number of Jewish Democrats,” Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer told JNS. “For 31 years, she has given voice to our values in Congress, including through her steadfast support of Israel.”
“Nita Lowey epitomizes bold and courageous leadership, and her wisdom and experience will be deeply missed in Congress when she retires,” she added. “In the meantime, we look forward to working with her to further our shared values in the next year.”
“For more than 30 years, Rep. Nita Lowey has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and U.S. interests in the Middle East. We wish her well in her just-announced retirement,” B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin told JNS. “And we hope that whoever runs for her seat in 2020 will have the same level of commitment to the strong ties between the U.S. and Israel.”
For the first time in years, Lowey faced a primary challenger in 2020: former Obama Department of Justice official Mondaire Jones.
“I thank Congresswoman Lowey for her years of extraordinary, inspiring service to the district,” he tweeted. “I’m looking forward to making my case to every voter in Westchester and Rockland Counties on my plan to bring bold, progressive leadership to Washington.”
“No question that the Justice Democrats are going to make this seat a top priority, especially since there’s little question they would have lost against Lowey’s unmatched local support,” a Democratic operative in the pro-Israel community told JNS. “What the pro-Israel community is going to be taking a closer look at is who is taking over for her on the Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. That will be the more consequential battle when it comes to the priorities of the pro-Israel community.”
JNS.org cited B'nai B'rith International's response to the news from the White House that the U.S. would be withdrawing troops from northeast Syria.
Jewish and pro-Israel groups reacted unfavorably to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision on Sunday evening to withdraw U.S. forces from northeast Syria, ahead of an expected invasion by Turkey against Kurdish forces.
The White House announced the withdrawal on Sunday, following a call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, eliciting alarm from the Syrian Kurds, whom Erdoğan considers to be terrorists.
Trump’s decision was also met with bipartisan condemnation, including from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
In the agreement between Turkey and the United States, joint U.S and Turkish ground and air patrols had created a security area that spans more than 78 miles along the Syria-Turkey border.
Erdoğan said on Saturday that the invasion could start “as soon as today or maybe tomorrow.”
“We are appalled by President Trump’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in northern Syria,” said Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman in a statement. “All of us owe a deep debt of gratitude to American troops, who put their lives on the line to defend us, and we certainly want them safe and home as quickly as possible.”
“Allowing Turkey to invade Kurdish territory in northern Syria will result in thousands of Kurdish deaths, deprive millions of their rights, and will prevent Kurdish forces from battling ISIS and from continuing to detain the tens of thousands of ISIS fighters currently in their custody,” he added.
“This decision has created a dangerous and unstable situation in the Middle East, similar to Trump’s December 2018 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria,” said Jewish Democratic Council of America chairman Ron Klein, a former Florida Democratic congressman, in a statement. “What we said at the time remains true today—‘Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is a betrayal of our allies and a boon to our adversaries. It’s not ‘America First’ in any respect. Rather, it’s an ‘Iran and Russia First’ policy.’”
The Republican Jewish Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.
“A U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria would embolden Iran’s hold on Syria, endangering Israel and U.S. interests. As Senator Lindsey Graham noted today, Iran’s power was enhanced when former President Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq—and the same would happen in the event of a troop departure from Syria,” national president of the Zionist Organization of America Mort Klein told JNS.
“In addition to empowering Iran on Israel’s northwest border, the dangers of withdrawal include sending a message that the United States may be willing to abandon allies who are also a strong supporter of Israel; the danger that the Kurds may then ally with Iran; an ISIS resurgence that threatens the U.S. homeland; a potential escape of thousands of ISIS prisoners if their Kurdish guards need to turn their attention to fending off an attack from Turkey; and increased instability,” he explained. “We hope that the president will reassess this situation.”
Sarah Stern, founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which houses the Kurdistan Project, told JNS: “We already have seen, through Erdoğan’s brutal treatment of the Kurds in Afrin, that this is going to lead to a horrendous human massacre and possibly a genocide.”
“On the foreign-policy level, we are not thinking of the future, but only the moment. Why would anyone want to ally themselves with us if we don’t remember who our friends have been?” posed Stern. “I understand and fully appreciate what President Trump has done for Israel, but as the great sage Hillel once said, ‘If I am not for myself, who am I for? But if I am for myself, alone, what am I?’”
The Syrian Democratic Forces echoed a sentiment of betrayal.
“Based on our confidence in the #US efforts in the Security Mechanism agreement, we implemented all our commitments to remove military fortifications between Tal Abyad & SereKaniye, withdraw combat forces with heavy weapons, risking a security vacum [sic] as a result of the agreement,” tweeted the official Twitter account of the Syrian Democratic Forces in a thread, which warned that a U.S. withdrawal would undo victories against the Islamic State, including the release of tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners who are being held captive by the SDF and whom European countries have refused to take back despite such appeals from the United States.
Many fear that Israel could be adversely affected by the withdrawal.
“That Israel has always depended on itself to ensure its security has been a constant, and it goes without saying that it has clearly looked at the various scenarios that may lie ahead,” B’nai B’rith International told JNS.
The Jerusalem Post quoted B'nai B'rith International President Charles Kaufman's letter to the principal of an Australian school where a Jewish student recently became the target of anti-Semitic bullying.
Two separate antisemitic incidents involving children in Melbourne are shocking the Australian Jewish community, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Thursday.
In one incident, a five-year-old boy was harassed for weeks by other children in his school’s bathrooms. The child, who comes from a family of Holocaust survivors, was attending the Hawthorn West Primary School.
According to the report, he was chased continuously to the bathroom and laughed at for being circumcised, to the point that he started to wet himself in class rather than using the toilet. He was also addressed with expressions such as “Jewish cockroach.”
In an interview with The Australian Jewish News, the mother of the boy said that after behaving strangely for months, one morning he burst out crying over breakfast.
A 12-year-old Jewish student was forced to kneel down and kiss the shoes of a Muslim classmate, while a five-year-old boy was allegedly called a "Jewish cockroach" and repeatedly hounded in the school toilets.
“He literally fell down on the floor,” his mother told The AJN, “and said, ‘Mummy, you shouldn’t love me. I’m a worthless Jewish rodent. I’m vermin."
Although the school acknowledged the bullying, they did not treat it as an antisemitic incident.
“While school staff were not able to substantiate that any negative interactions were antisemitic in nature, on the basis of those investigations, school staff identified an incident that involved children laughing at [the boy],” the North-West Victoria Department of Education director Barbara Crowe told the Sydney Morning Herald. “This was not acceptable and would have been an unpleasant experience for [the boy]. I am sorry that this occurred.”
In a separate incident, a 12-year-old was forced to kiss a Muslim classmate’s feet in a public park under the threat of being beaten by several other boys. The incident was filmed and the images circulated widely online.
The child was attending Cheltenham Secondary College in Victoria. According to the report, no action has been taken by the school against the group of Muslim boys involved, because the incident did not happen on the school’s premises.
However, the parents of the student who presented his feet to be kissed were described as “horrified” by their son’s behavior.
Both boys were withdrawn from their respective schools.
B'nai Brith International President Charles Kaufman wrote a letter to the school principal of Cheltenham Secondary College, expressing his disappointment in the response to the incident. "Somehow you find the hurling of vile anti-Semitic slurs and physical abuse against a 12-year-old Jewish student as mere bullying, an isolated incident," Kaufman wrote. "Somehow you feel powerless to do anything about this shameful act because the incident occurred off campus.
"Are these nine students enrolled in your school?" he asked. "If so, you have an ethical and professional responsibility, if not a legal one, to address this matter with the students and their parents."
He concluded by stating that "B’nai B’rith International condemns this hateful, criminal assault. If you sit and do nothing, you sit in shame."
B'nai Brith International is an organization dedicated, among other things, to advancing human rights and Israel advocacy.
JTA.org quoted Dvir Abramovich, the chairman of B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation Commission, in its coverage of anti-Semitic bullying in Australian schools.
Two reports of anti-Semitic bullying at schools in Australia are receiving widespread media coverage.
A photo that allegedly shows a 12-year-old Jewish student being forced to kneel to kiss the shoes of a Muslim classmate was circulated on social media. The incident occurred at the Cheltenham Secondary College in the town of Cheltenham, a Melbourne suburb, according to The Age, a Melbourne-based newspaper.
The report did not make it clear if the Muslim boy’s religion had anything to do with the incident.
A second incident took place at the Hawthorn West Primary School in Melbourne, where a 5-year-old Jewish student was called a number of anti-Semitic insults, including a “Jewish cockroach,” according to The Age.
Both Jewish boys have left their schools.
Dvir Abramovich, chairman of B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation Commission, said the incidents are part of a broader trend of anti-Semitic bullying.
“There is mounting evidence that families are forced to take their children out of public schools and to enroll them in Jewish day schools due to a growing sense of insecurity and fear that their kids will be harmed simply because of who they are,” Abramovich told The Age.
The mother of the boy in the photo said she was disappointed by the school’s lack of response. She told The Age that the school said it was not responsible for the incident since it did not take place on its campus. But the mother said she talked to the parents of the Muslim student, who disapproved of their son’s actions.
Another boy involved in the incident was later suspended for punching the Jewish boy, The Age reported.
Meanwhile, the boy at Hawthorn West Primary School was repeatedly subjected to anti-Semitic insults and teased because he was circumcised, his mother told The Age. The school sent the parents an apology letter last month, the mother said.
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