‘The Forgotten Refugees’: Annual Event Draws Attention to Plight of Jews Expelled From Arab Countries and Iran
The Algemeiner included B'nai B'rith International's tweet in its coverage of Jewish organizations honoring the annual Day of Commemoration for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran.
Jewish groups around the world marked on Monday the Day of Commemoration for Jewish Refugees From Arab Countries and Iran.
The annual event is meant to draw attention to the plight of the nearly nearly-one million Jews who were expelled from their homes in the Middle East and North Africa around the time of the establishment of the State of Israel seven decades ago.
In a Twitter threat, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) called these Jews “the forgotten refugees.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted, “Never again can we allow the world to turn its back on Jews in danger.”
B’nai B’rith International tweeted, “On Jewish Refugee Day, we remember the 850,000 Jews who were forced out of Middle East countries after more than 2,000 years. The world must recognize their rights and legacy.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry tweeted: "Today marks the Day of Commemoration for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran. Dozens of Jewish communities, more than 800,000 men, women & infants were forced to abandon their homes. Today we remember and tell their stories in Israeli missions around the world."
Another official Twitter account run by the Foreign Ministry said, “850,000 Jews called Arab lands & Iran home for centuries. That all changed when #Israel become a state in 1948. In the years that followed, Jews were forced to flee en mass, fearing for their lives.”
Ex-Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon tweeted, “Today we remember the forgotten Jewish #refugees. Over 850,000 Jews fled the Arab world from persecution, antisemitism & forced expulsion. From #Iraq #Iran #Egypt #Yemen & more. My father was one of them. They came to #Israel destitute. We honor their plight & successful integration.”
Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh tweeted, “#JewishRefugeesDay serves as memory & reminder to recognize the 850,000+ Jewish refugees ethnically cleansed from Arab Lands & Iran, destroying lives & communities. We must acknowledge & empower these voices, identifying the opportunity to transform trauma into a bridge to peace.”
The Jerusalem Post cited the B’nai Brith World Center-Jerusalem posthumously awarding Joseph Bau its Jewish Rescuers Citation in its coverage of the Joseph Bau House Museum in Tel Aviv struggling to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.
If there are any Hollywood moguls out there looking for a real-life character to serve as the central character in a superhero-type blockbuster, they could do a lot worse than to read up on Joseph Bau.
There is no need to engage in hyperbole or florid epithets when sketching a profile of Bau, who died in 2002 at the age of 81. In fact, he was fortunate to make it past his mid-20s, surviving several ghettos, a concentration camp and all manner of other horrific tests of his mettle along the way.
Some of that is today commemorated, nay, celebrated, at Joseph Bau House Museum, an independent boutique museum in downtown Tel Aviv that tells the extraordinary life story of an extraordinary person. The repository – which is run by Bau’s daughters Hadassah and Clilah Bau – has somehow managed to survive over the years on a shoestring budget, but is now running out of funds and may be forced to close down. The Baus have instigated a Headstart drive (headstart.co.il/project/60369) that is aiming to raise NIS 100,000 to keep the museum afloat, and to continue to enlighten the public about their father’s incredible journey on terra firma.
Bau was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1920 and died in Tel Aviv in 2002. Between those two temporal goalposts, he managed to wriggle his way out of numerous life-threatening situations, and even found love en route.
I first encountered Bau’s name, and learned of some of his amazing achievements, 20 years ago when I met his daughters at his studio on Berdichevsky Street off Rothschild Boulevard. It felt like stepping into an Aladdin’s cave. The cozily proportioned premises were stuffed to the rafters with specimens of Bau’s wide-ranging graphic work, including posters he crafted for early Israeli movies, such as the iconic 1964 dark comedy about aliyah and absorption Sallah Shabati, starring Haim Topol. There were also examples of his animation work, paintings, caricatures, graphics, copies of the nine books he has put out over the years, and evidence of his immersive research into the Hebrew language.
For Bau the latter was a labor of love, which helped him bond with the country and culture he had dreamed about almost all his life.
“Reaching Israel was the fulfillment of an ambition he had since the age of 13,” says Clilah. “He talks about that in his book Shnot Tarzach.” Typically, the title of the book is a play on words. By slightly altering the punctuation you get tirzach, which translates as “you shall murder,” while as an abbreviation, the four letters in Hebrew spell out the year 5698, which equates to 1938-39 in the Gregorian calendar and possibly references the outbreak of World War Two. The tome contains Bau’s recollections of the Holocaust and his life in Israel, and is liberally seasoned with comical word play, and dark and sometimes raucous humor. It has been translated into seven languages, including English, Arabic and Chinese.
I met Bau in his apartment after visiting the studio with his daughters. He was a slight, gentle-looking, well-groomed character, with a full head of snow-white hair, but he had lost his power of speech following the death of his wife, Rivka (née Tennenbaum), three years earlier. Rivka was the love of his life who, in fact, saved his life by giving him her place at Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow, which employed hundreds of Jews, and saved around 1,200. Happily, Rivka subsequently survived Auschwitz and was reunited with her husband in Krakow, where they lived until they made aliyah in 1950.
They met in Plaszów concentration camp near Krakow. It was love at first sight and, incredibly, the couple contrived to get married there, after Bau snuck into the women’s quarters, with the other female inmates standing guard. The nuptials were immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar Award-winning epic Schindler’s List, which Joseph and Rivka went to see, notwithstanding their daughters’ remonstrations.
“WE DIDN’T want our parents to see the movie, but they said it was their duty, toward all those who were murdered,” Hadassah recalls. “We were very concerned and sat on either side of them [in the cinema]. During the movie, when they showed something terrible, we asked dad, ‘Was it like that?’ and he replied, ‘It was 10 times worse!’ Dad also said that the movie was a work of genius, and that if Spielberg had shown all the horrors, no one would have gone to see it.”
One of the more remarkable aspects of Bau’s unimaginable life odyssey is the fact that he not only got by in Hebrew, he mastered it to such an extent that he was able to sculpt it, and mine its nuances and vagaries to a level achieved by few born into the language. That comes across succinctly in, for example, his 1987 book, Brit Mila, again a play of words that can reference the Jewish circumcision ceremony for male babies or translate as Covenant of a Word.
As a trained graphic artist who studied German Gothic lettering before the Holocaust – a skill that also helped him to survive by providing that service to German officers in Krakow Ghetto and later at Plaszów – he was also, naturally, drawn to its aesthetics. He also used his graphic skills to save the lives of many Jews by forging papers for them. Those heroic efforts were recently recognized by the B’nai Brith World Center in Jerusalem when it posthumously awarded Bau its Jewish Rescuers Citation.
He created a number of Hebrew fonts that found their way into the country’s earliest animation works and commercials. As he was there at the very inception of the field in the young State of Israel, he had to start from scratch. That included crafting the lighting, cameras and other requisite equipment out of old X-ray apparatus and refitting all kinds of machinery to get the job done.
Although Hadassah and Clilah say their parents were not coy about their Holocaust experiences, Bau kept one aspect of his work to himself. It was only several years after his death that the Bau daughters learned of their father’s espionage work for the Mossad.
“His work included forging papers for spies,” says Clilah. “That included documents for [Israeli spy in Syria] Eli Cohen and the whole team that went [to Argentina] to capture [Adolf] Eichmann.
”Bau might have had an easier life in the States, but opted to stay here.
“Our father’s dream was to make animated films, but there was no awareness of cartoons in Israel then, so he worked in graphics and creating fonts for movies,” Hadassah explains. “His brother wanted him to come to New York to work as an animator, but he didn’t want to leave Israel, which was everything to him.”
His expertise in that field was also put to good use by the Israeli security forces.
“We discovered he made classified animated films for the IDF and Mossad, but they are not willing to show us the movies.
”Our chat is interspersed by lots of laughing, and the daughters say there was plenty of merriment at home.
“He taught me to write songs, all with humor, and he taught Clilah to tell jokes,” Hadassah notes with yet another peal of laughter.
Now the Baus just want to keep the memory of their parents’ amazing life, and their father’s invaluable work, alive. Prior to the pandemic, tours of the studio included theatrical enactments of some of Bau’s experiences.
“Dad said we should turn the studio into a theater. Today it is a museum/theater where we perform and tell the story of the place and the wonderful life story of our parents, illustrated by his paintings and drawings of the Hebrew language.
”The idea is also to convey some much-needed positive vibes, particularly in these trying times.
“Our father always wanted to make people happy,” says Clilah. “He always said, ‘If we were happy in the darkest of times, everyone can learn the meaning of happiness and love from us.’ That’s what we do.”
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on President-elect Biden's national security picks.
(November 23, 2020 / JNS) U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announced a number of cabinet and national security picks on Monday that offers a view into the direction his administration will pursue regarding foreign policy. For the Jewish and pro-Israel community, most of the selections by Biden are familiar names who have long-served in senior foreign-policy positions in previous Democratic administrations, while others are newer names to the American public.
Tony Blinken, who served as Biden’s top foreign-policy adviser during his campaign, and was deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor under former U.S. President Barack Obama, will be nominated as U.S. secretary of state.
A GOP-controlled Senate would likely be receptive to Blinken; whether that comes to fruition will be decided after the two Senate-seat runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5. Blinken said during the campaign that a Biden administration would keep some of the U.S. sanctions on Iran and reiterated Biden’s stance that the United States would not return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal unless the Islamic Regime returned to compliance.
Jake Sullivan, who also served as a foreign-policy adviser on Biden’s campaign and succeeded Blinken as national security advisor to Biden when he was vice president, has been named as incoming U.S. national security advisor—a position that does not involve Senate confirmation. Sullivan reportedly met with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to foster a possible nuclear agreement with the regime.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year diplomat, will be nominated as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Avril Haines, who served as deputy national security advisor and deputy CIA director under Obama, will be nominated as director of national intelligence. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to serve in the role, which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies.
Haines was a signee of a letter to the Democratic National Committee that called for the party’s platform to include language critical of Israel, expressed sympathy with the Palestinians and advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Alejandro Mayorkas, who served as U.S. deputy homeland security director and director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will be nominated as U.S. homeland security secretary. If confirmed, he would be the first Latino and immigrant, and second Jewish person, to lead the agency.
John Kerry, who served as secretary of state under Obama after serving for almost three decades as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, will be the special presidential envoy for climate and sit on the National Security Council.
While Thomas-Greenfield is no stranger to the foreign-policy arena, she has no experience on issues pertaining to the Middle East or the Jewish community, as her career focused on African affairs. She was U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012, director-general of the U.S. Foreign Service, and U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Nonetheless, a U.S. State Department official who works in African affairs and has worked with Thomas-Greenfield, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the official’s employment and not being authorized to speak to the press, told JNS that “she’s great and had a well-deserved wonderful reputation” at the department, and “knows the ins and outs of the department and is amazing to work with.”
Additionally, Thomas-Greenfield met Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in 2011 during the African Union Summit in the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo. The unscheduled meeting happened after Hoenlein, who was part of a delegation not affiliated with the Conference of Presidents, voluntarily walked out of the plenary session after Iran, joined by the Palestinians, objected to Hoenlein being in the room. Thomas-Greenfield had already been excluded from the session. She approached Hoenlein and his delegation, and the parties discussed the Iranian threat and other issues.
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told JNS that the national security team will reflect how the Biden administration will contrast itself from the current Trump administration. “Regardless of what happens abroad, this is going to be nothing short of a transformation,” he said.
Miller remarked that the national interest “will be the object of this group’s attention rather than catering to the needs of a single man’s vanity’s politics or personal interests,” referring to the varying picks of U.S. President Donald Trump.
He said that Biden’s national security team will “for sure” continue the success of the Abraham Accords, though the Iranian issue will be “very complicated” for them.
‘From the more moderate wing of the party’
Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer tweeted that Thomas-Greenfield “will help restore America’s alliances & credibility at the [United Nations], which are critical to our national security & building back better.”
Hoenlein, speaking for himself, applauded the choice of Blinken and Sullivan, noting that even where there were differences, he and the umbrella Jewish organization, “we were able to work with them.”
“Both are very knowledgeable, experienced,” said Hoenlein, adding that Mayorkas is someone “very sympathetic to the concerns about anti-Semitism” and other concerns from the Jewish community.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Barbara Leaf told JNS that Blinken and Thomas-Greenfield as the first State nominees are “welcome on several levels: Both bring deep foreign-policy experience and expertise to their positions, and have led within the department on both policy and the spectrum of personnel and resources issues.”
As to whether Kerry will have any influence on Iran policy, considering that he negotiated the 2015 Iran nuclear as secretary of state, Leaf said, “I think John Kerry is being brought on to do climate, period—something he is passionate about. Two of his big trips in his final year as secretary of state were to the Arctic Circle and to Antarctica to witness and draw attention to the effects of climate change.”
She noted that “Biden has a thicket of people on the campaign foreign-policy team to choose from who are steeped in Iran and that are likely to populate the administration,” and while he “will offer his views” to Biden, the president-elect “will put together a formal Team Iran to run the policy under Blinken and Sullivan.”
Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), told JNS, “Given the approach of the Obama administration and the foreign-policy rhetoric during the Democratic primary, Blinken and Sullivan are certainly from the more moderate wing of the party, and that is reassuring. They’re also thoughtful and experienced experts.”
“However,” he continued, “they were involved in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal and favor re-entering it. That will be a complicated effort, and one that would be disastrous to achieve, so best to withhold judgment until we see how they choose to proceed.”
Regarding Haines, Leaf called her “one of the smartest, nimblest managers and navigators of the U.S. interagency” she has worked with and someone who “brings terrific expertise to the job—in intelligence, counter-terrorism and on a mix of key geopolitical issues.”
If confirmed, Mayorkas will be in charge of the department that, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, manages the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which Jewish synagogues and other institutions have relied upon especially in the aftermath of synagogue shootings and other anti-Semitic attacks over the past few years.
While the Orthodox Union declined to comment on the picks, Nathan Diament, the organization’s executive director for public policy, told Jewish Insider in November that Mayorkas “was a very good partner in the leadership of DHS.”
Aviva Klompas, who was the director of speechwriting for Israel’s U.N. mission under then-Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor, expressed hope that the upcoming Biden administration will continue the Trump administration’s policies of brokering normalization deals between Israel and other countries and on the Iranian threat.
“We find ourselves at a promising historic juncture in the Middle East in which relations between Israel and the Muslim world are blossoming,” she told JNS. “I have no doubt that the Biden administration appointees will want to bring more countries to the table to sign peace agreements and bring greater stability to the Middle East for the simple reason that doing so is beneficial to the region and to the United States.”
“At the same time,” continued Klompas, “I hope they will listen to the many voices in the Middle East cautioning that Iran remains the primary impediment to peace and stability and should be managed accordingly.”
‘Meaningful leadership and partnership in the search for solutions’
Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman told JNS, “President-elect Biden is assembling a national security and foreign policy team with broad knowledge, deep experience, and a strong commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Together with the president-elect, these experienced, crisis-tested professionals will begin to restore America’s world leadership.”
The American Jewish Committee applauded Biden for announcing Blinken as his choice to lead Foggy Bottom.
“Tony Blinken has the breadth and depth of experience to ably oversee the implementation of U.S. foreign policy under President Biden,” said AJC CEO David Harris, who has met with Blinken on numerous occasions in the latter’s various posts. “He is intimately familiar with the full scope of the president-elect’s foreign-policy views, as well the issues of utmost concern to the Jewish community, including full-throated support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, widening the growing circle of Arab-Israel peace, the fight against global anti-Semitism, and the danger posed by Iran and its proxies.”
AJC also praised the appointment of Kerry to the climate role, with the organization telling JNS that “as the first national Jewish organization to have a LEED-certified building, we are delighted to see this new position filled by someone we know well and have hosted several times our Global Forum.”
In a Twitter post, Harris also lauded Thomas-Greenfield.
In a Twitter thread, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami applauded Monday’s developments.
“The National Security team announced today by President-elect Biden represents exactly the type of leadership this country deserves and the world needs after four years of diplomatic and national security malpractice,” he tweeted. “The challenges facing us globally in the 21st century, as well as in the Middle East more specifically, require not just America’s re-engagement but our meaningful leadership and partnership in the search for solutions.”
B’nai B’rith International provided a neutral stance on Biden’s selections of Blinken, Sullivan and Thomas-Greenfield, though declined to comment on Kerry, Haines and Mayorkas.
“We hope the new appointments at State, the NSC and the U.N. will encourage an expansion of Israel’s relations with Arab countries and that they will take a tough line on Iran’s nuclear program and its malign behavior in the region, and will continue a long tradition of fighting bias against Israel at the United Nations,” the organization’s CEO, Daniel Mariaschin, told JNS.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee declined to comment, citing its longstanding policy of not discussing administration nominations and appointments.
Israel Hayom noted B'nai B'rith International awarding the Shalva Band a special citation for fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts as part of its World Center Award for Journalism.
The Shalva Band will be awarded a special citation for fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts as part of the B'nai B'rith World Center Award for Journalism, Israel Hayom has learned.
Formed in 2005 by the Shalva organization, which seeks to empower individuals with disabilities, the group, which comprises eight musicians who all live with some degree of disability, rose to fame in Israel after participating in Rising Star, a singing competition that aired on Channel 12. The band's guest-performance at the Eurovision semi-finals in 2019 earned it international acclaim and invitations to perform worldwide.
The award ceremony will take place on Nov. 25 at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. The ceremony will allow for a limited attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it will be livestreamed on Facebook and Youtube.
Branu Tegene and Danny Kushmaro of Channel 12 News will receive the award in the Broadcast Media category for their five-part series Split Up: The Story of the Ethiopian Jewish Community.
Haaretz correspondent Dina Kraft will receive the award for Print Media for articles on Jewish communities in the United States and Britain.
Since its establishment in 1992, the B'nai B'rith World Center Award for Journalism has recognized excellence in reporting on contemporary Diaspora Jewish communities and the state of Israel-Diaspora relations in the Israeli print, broadcast, and online media.
The awards are presented in memory of the late Wolf Matsdorf, journalist and editor of the organization's journal "Leadership Briefing" and his wife, Hilda, a pioneer in social work in both Australia and Israel, and in memory of Luis and Trudi Schydlowsky. The award is made possible through donations from the Matsdorf family and B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem board member Daniel Schydlowsky.
Swissinfo.ch (SWI) shared an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Geneva Representative Anita Winter about remembering Kristallnacht and her family's personal history during the Holocaust.
Kristallnacht - what a creation of a word. Broken windows become sparkling stones that glitter in the night. Reichskristallnacht. What a masterpiece of propaganda. In the collective memory of the National Socialists, the night of November 9, 1938, was to be associated with something beautiful, something to be celebrated.
My father was a witness
In fact, many people were in an exuberant mood at the time. When my father walked alone through the streets of Berlin on the morning of November 10, 1938, he saw not only the destruction of the previous night, but also how the SA soldiers (from the Nazi paramilitary wing), women and men, young people and children continued to rage happily. No one intervened.
My father was 16 years old when he understood that being a Jew meant that he had to leave Germany as soon as possible. Because the broken glass scattered everywhere could only be a harbinger of much worse things to come.
How right he was – that night was the first step on the path to the Final Solution. What he had seen with his own eyes in Berlin had happened all over Germany. Everywhere the SA had destroyed and looted Jewish shops, burned down synagogues, abused Jews, murdered hundreds and deported thousands to concentration camps.
The last witnesses of the Shoah
My father, Walter Strauss, used to tell me, my siblings and his grandchildren, even at a very old age, again and again about that night, this orchestrated outbreak of violence. But he would also talk about the period that preceded it, when the Jews had been increasingly marginalised.
Even the Iron Cross, which his father had been awarded during the First World War, was of no help to the family. Jewish families were integrated in society but found themselves outside of it within a very short time.
Back then my father was still a pupil in Heilbronn but he was not allowed to study for the only reason that he was a Jew. And so he came alone to Berlin to do an apprenticeship with a tailor. Here, he witnessed the night of November 9, 1938 – alone, hidden behind a cupboard, filled with fear and horror. From here he fled alone via detours to Switzerland. Only because of this he escaped the Shoah.
After the Second World War, many believed that the Holocaust – the murder of six million Jews – would mean the end of anti-Semitism. My father was much more pessimistic. He did not believe that people had really learned from this break in civilization.
In his old age he witnessed anti-Semitism flaring up again. That is how he, my beloved father, Walter Strauss, died – warning us, the next generation. And that is also how the remaining witnesses of the Holocaust will die.
Memory against forgetting
Reichskristallnacht – the crystals stand for the cynical cold and the frosty ice in which the faces of all those who have participated or remained silent are reflected.
Reichskristallnacht – Reichspogromnacht, the Night of the Pogrom. What we ultimately call this night is irrelevant, as long as we understand what happened that night: that the broken glass was only the prelude to extermination. Today we know it and we can fight it, as long as we keep the memory of November 9 alive. It is about the importance of never forgetting, never remaining silent, and never being indifferent.
Neue Zürcher Zeitung shared an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Geneva Representative Anita Winter about remembering Kristallnacht and her family's personal history during the Holocaust.
In dieser Nacht vom 9. auf den 10. November 1938 brennen in Deutschland die Synagogen, von Berlin bis Hamburg werden jüdische Geschäfte zerstört und geplündert, die Friedhöfe geschändet und die Juden zu Tausenden verschleppt – mindestens 400 Juden werden ermordet oder sterben an den Haftfolgen. Es ist keine «Kristallnacht», wie die Nationalsozialisten die Ereignisse fortan beschönigend nennen, sondern eine Pogromnacht.
«Stürmischer Beifall. Alles saust gleich an die Telefone. Nun wird das Volk handeln.» Diese Sätze, niedergeschrieben von Joseph Goebbels, belegen die organisierte Gewalt, die bei Polizei und Partei ihren Anfang nahm und die Bevölkerung mit einschloss. Es zeigte sich hier der sich anbahnende Zivilisationsbruch: Die Pogromnacht markiert den Übergang von der Diskriminierung der Juden zu ihrer systematischen Vernichtung. Der 9. November 1938 hat darum zu Recht eine besondere Bedeutung im kollektiven Gedächtnis: So wird in Deutschland und anderswo in jedem Jahr an diese Schreckensnacht erinnert. Zeitzeuginnen und Zeitzeugen bündeln noch einmal ihre Kräfte, treten an Veranstaltungen oder in Schulen auf, um nochmals Zeugnis abzulegen. Um den jungen Menschen zu berichten, wozu Menschen fähig sind, wenn die Saat von Intoleranz und Hass aufgeht.
Wo die Zeitzeugen verstummen
2020 ist alles anders. Es ist nicht allein die Corona-Pandemie, welche die Begegnung zwischen den betagten Opfern und der nächsten Generation verunmöglicht. Die Zeit lässt die Stimmen allmählich verstummen. Es werden immer weniger, die über die Reichspogromnacht und den Holocaust erzählen können.
Mit Walter Strauss ist einer dieser Zeitzeugen im letzten Jahr verstorben. «Wir wurden gedemütigt und gepeinigt: In Berlin wurde die antisemitische Hetze immer penetranter», hat sich Strauss wenige Monate vor seinem Tod in einem Gespräch mit der NZZ erinnert. Geboren wurde der Sohn eines Arztes 1922 im deutschen Heilbronn. Der Vater war im Ersten Weltkrieg mit dem Eisernen Kreuz ausgezeichnet worden, seine Mutter stammte aus dem aargauischen Baden, verlor aber bei der Heirat ihre Schweizer Staatsbürgerschaft. Nach Hitlers Machtergreifung im Jahre 1933 verschlechterten sich die Lebensumstände der jüdischen Familie rasch: Die Eltern flohen nach Liechtenstein, und Walter begann in Berlin eine Lehre als Schneider, weil ihm eine akademische Ausbildung verboten war.
Walter Strauss fuhr am Morgen des 10. Novembers allein als 16-jähriger Junge mit der Strassenbahn durch Berlin und beobachtete fassungslos das Ausmass der Zerstörung. An seinem Arbeitsplatz in der Nähe des Alexanderplatzes stand der Betrieb still. Fast alle Angestellten der jüdischen Textilfabrik waren geflohen oder von den Nazis verschleppt worden. «Während ein jüdisches Porzellangeschäft kurz und klein geschlagen wurde, herrschte eine geradezu ausgelassene und fröhliche Stimmung im Volk. Die Polizisten standen zwar herum, machten aber keine Anstalten einzuschreiten», erinnerte sich Strauss. In diesem Moment wurde es dem Jungen klar, dass er so rasch wie möglich das Land verlassen musste. Ihm gelang die Flucht in die Schweiz, und er konnte sich trotz bürokratischen Hürden dank seiner Familie in Baden niederlassen, wo er bis zu seinem Tod lebte.
Wohin Intoleranz führt
Europa erlebte nach dem Krieg eine Zeit der Sicherheit, aber sicher ist nichts, davon war Walter Strauss überzeugt. Kurz vor seinem Tod sagte er im Interview: «Ich glaube nicht, dass die Menschen aus der Geschichte lernen und gescheiter werden. Ich bin Realist. Der Weg von der Zivilisation zur Barbarei ist kurz.»
Wie gehen wir mit dieser Vergangenheit um? Die Schrecken der Pogromnacht sind dank den Berichten von Zeitzeugen dokumentiert. Aber damit ist es nicht getan. Ohne die direkte Begegnung mit den Menschen, die den Holocaust überlebt haben, braucht es neue Formen des Erzählens und Lehrens, um die Erinnerung an den Holocaust auch bei der nächsten Generation wachzuhalten. Wir müssen aufzeigen, wohin Intoleranz, Fremdenfeindlichkeit und Antisemitismus führen. Wir müssen aufzeigen, was Menschlichkeit bedeutet. Wir müssen beweisen, dass wir dem Hass etwas entgegenstellen können. Dies ist unsere Aufgabe, dies ist unsere Verpflichtung gegenüber den letzten Zeitzeugen. Dies muss unser Versprechen sein. Denn, wie Walter Strauss sich ausdrückte: «Wir müssen wachsam bleiben. So etwas darf nie mehr geschehen.»
Medium published an op-ed by B'nai B'rith Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David J. Michaels on the U.N. at 75 and the need for the world body to shift its approach to Israel-related issues.
Last week, the United Nations celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Even those closely attuned to global affairs might be forgiven for having missed the big occasion – and not only because it had the misfortune of falling during a pandemic and in the run-up to an American presidential election.
In some key circles, the U.N. – the closest humanity has to a world parliament – has fallen into irrelevance or even disrepute. This is a tragedy because the international organization could play a singularly important role in so many areas.
But hampered too often by inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, corruption and unending politicization, few beyond diplomacy wonks truly feel that the U.N. matters greatly, let alone positively, in their actual lives. This sentiment is not least common in the United States – the world body’s host nation, its largest budgetary contributor and its original lead architect – among both centrist liberals and conservatives, including those otherwise invested in multilateral engagement.
One primary cause of this disillusionment is the world body’s treatment of a key American ally, Israel. Although no country should be immune to reasonable criticism, at the U.N. some are. Indeed, the worst of them are routinely awarded posts in influential forums like the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, while Israel – the Middle East’s sole democracy, one of the world’s smallest and most beleaguered nations – is ritualistically condemned more than all other 192 member states combined.
In multiple U.N. settings, Israel alone is singled out, officially, for scrutiny and condemnation on a permanent basis. Israel alone is excluded from its natural regional group. Its adversaries’ narratives are promulgated, full-time, by dedicated bureaucratic units. Only companies doing business with Israel or in territory it holds are stigmatized by a discriminatory U.N. blacklist. Israel is targeted by repeated special “investigators” and “commissions of inquiry” whose biased conclusions are established in advance – though this normally goes unmentioned by relevant press outlets, academics and civil society groups.
And Israel alone has been delegitimized not only in demagogues’ speeches at the U.N. – which have obscenely compared the world’s only Jewish state to apartheid South Africa and even Nazi Germany – but in a notorious, since-rescinded General Assembly resolution comparing only Jews’ movement for independence, Zionism, to racism.
Next year, 20 years will be marked since a U.N. conference on racism, in Durban, South Africa, again suggested that Israel alone is racist – and it produced scenes of outright anti-Semitism that shocked even U.N. officials. As a result, the U.N. has lost all credibility with Israelis of diverse stripes, but also with many serious, fair-minded observers.
It wasn’t always this way.
The U.N. was born in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and Jewish communities – led by organizations like mine – saw great hope in the formation of the U.N., the adoption of its Charter and the eventual crafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Isaiah Wall opposite U.N. Headquarters, with its scriptural prophecy of peace among nations, testifies to the vision of a better shared future. Israel itself, whose birth was endorsed by the world body decades before oil-rich Arab states and their allies solidified an automatic majority in international organizations, had no fewer than seven favorable references to the U.N. in its Declaration of Independence.
But Palestinian and other hardliners, preferring a strategy of leveraging global pressure against Israel over direct talks and compromise, have persisted in “internationalizing” their conflict with Israel. The U.N. has thus been mired in never-ending confrontation that in no way improves the lives of Palestinians or Israelis.
Fortunately, a confluence of circumstances has provided a rare opening for a new era in U.N. relations with Israel – and by extension a rehabilitation of the U.N.’s own standing in America and abroad.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, building upon eventual exhortations by his predecessors Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, has committed himself to fighting anti-Semitism, and he has called denial of Israel’s right to exist – the posture still held by Iran, Hamas overseers of the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah jihadists dominating Lebanon – a form of that scourge. He has designated Miguel Moratinos, a former Spanish foreign minister, as focal point in combating hatred of Jews, and has in Nickolay Mladenov, Bulgaria’s former foreign minister, a respected envoy to the Middle East. Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives who is now a resident expert at the U.N., even drafted a report for the General Assembly focused extensively on global animus to Jews.
Even more importantly, Iran’s widely malign policies – combined with American leadership, and new regional focus on constructive partnership – have brought Israelis and Arabs closer together. Over recent weeks, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and now Sudan have joined Egypt, Jordan and other regional countries choosing common cause with Israel over old divides. Meanwhile, Israel already enjoys robust ties with not only the U.S. but also other major world powers, and once-distant countries (like several in Africa) are renewing their own close friendships with Jerusalem.
If the U.N., looking ahead to its centenary, is to regain relevance and respectability – though that will not happen overnight, particularly in the shadow of COVID-19 – it must fully and proactively embrace, not trail behind, a new paradigm of cooperation and commonality instead of grievance and partisanship.
The Security Council and General Assembly can begin by formally saluting the recent widening of the circle of friendship between Israel and its neighbors. The bodies should encourage more of the same – and signal that the days of U.N. exploitation as a tool of anti-Israel warfare have passed.
For its own sake – and for the sake of genuine peace – it’s time for a new U.N. approach to the Middle East.
Newsweek published an op-ed by B'nai B'rith Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David J. Michaels regarding the anniversary of the U.N. Zionism-is-racism resolution and the constant fight against anti-Jewish gaslighting.
Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest and most lethal forms of hate. It remains especially versatile, and is able to emerge from unexpected quarters.
Over the course of centuries, Jews have alternately been hated as being too rich and too poor, too strong and too weak, too religious and too secular, too conservative and too liberal, too alike and too different.
Since Roman conquerors forced most into exile nearly two millennia ago, Jews have also been hated for being dispersed. And since 1948, they have been hated for the revival of their small ancestral homeland: Israel.
In Europe, my grandparents, who survived the Holocaust, heard cries of "Jews, back to Palestine" only to rear grandchildren who endure calls of "Jews, out of Palestine."
Adding insult to injury, Israel and its friends have been tarred by some as inherently racist themselves.
At the United Nations—where Arab and allied countries hold an automatic majority—Israel is routinely condemned more than all other 192 member states combined. UN bias reached its peak 45 years ago with Resolution 3379. On November 10, 1975, the UN General Assembly singled out only Zionism—Jews' movement for independence—as "racist."
Chaim Herzog, Israel's UN ambassador and later president, tore up the resolution and decried the "ignorance" that enabled it. At the time, he said:
You dare talk of racism when I can point with pride to the Arab ministers who have served in my government; to the Arab deputy speaker of my Parliament; to Arab officers and men serving of their own volition in our defense, border and police forces, frequently commanding Jewish troops; to the hundreds of thousands of Arabs from all over the Middle East crowding the cities of Israel every year; to the thousands of Arabs from all over the Middle East coming for medical treatment to Israel; to the peaceful coexistence which has developed; to the fact that Arabic is an official language in Israel on a par with Hebrew; to the fact that it is as natural for an Arab to serve in public office in Israel as it is incongruous to think of a Jew serving in any public office in any Arab country, indeed being admitted to many of them. Is that racism? It is not. That is Zionism.
In a rarity, the UN revoked the Zionism-is-racism resolution in 1991—leading to new breakthroughs in Arab-Israeli relations. But its odious legacy has persisted. Ten years later, a UN anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, implied that only one country—Israel—is racist, and the gathering produced scenes of outright anti-Semitism that shocked even UN officials. More recently, some political activists have sought to exploit the Black Lives Matter movement by having it stigmatize the world's only Jewish state—the Middle East's sole democracy—as comparable to South Africa during apartheid.
Yet Jews have been at the very forefront of the struggle for Black civil rights. Israelis come in all colors. And it is not by chance that anti-Semitism and racism are perennially interwoven.
Palestinians and Israelis are divided over security and land—not racial ideology or difference.
At a time of alarming polarization, facts are as essential as ever. Accuracy matters. While simplistic narratives can make for punchier slogans than complex realities can, claims based on fiction do nothing to make our world better or more just. Smear tactics can be tempting, but we must resist such temptations when they distort rather than illuminate.
False accusations of "Zionist" racism—along with attempts to preempt pushback by asserting that Jews dismiss all reproach as anti-Semitic—undermine the very cause of fighting bigotry. And there are few causes more urgent.
Anti-Jewish gaslighting is wrong. Demonizing or delegitimizing Israelis is as indefensible as it would be to target a diverse population of any other nationality.
Zionists are women and men, left-wing and right-wing, Jews and Christians, people of Middle Eastern background and all other backgrounds. What they hold in common is simply the belief that Israel has a right to exist, be safe and have equality. The overwhelming majority of the global community is—in a word—Zionist.
There is nothing more discriminatory about Israel's Jewish identity and symbols than the Christian or Muslim identity and symbols of dozens of countries worldwide.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews." Those purporting to combat prejudice must never tolerate it themselves.
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