JNS covered B'nai B'rith International's response to the stabbing of five people at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New Jersey.
Jewish groups and politicians, including all of the 2020 presidential candidates, expressed condemnation in the aftermath of a black male carrying a long machete allegedly entering a home and prayer hall known as Rabbi Rottenberg’s Shul in Monsey, N.Y., on Saturday night, slashing and injuring five of the dozens of celebrants at a Hanukkah candle-lighting party.
It was just the latest in a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in New York, particularly in neighborhoods in the borough of Brooklyn, where many Torah-observant Jews reside.
“We are saddened, disturbed, and outraged by last night’s attack in Monsey, N.Y., at a celebratory Hanukkah party,” said Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement. “Again, here we are: mourning another act of senseless anti-Semitic violence committed against our community and praying for those who were the victims of this hate.”
Greenblatt mentioned the incident is “at least the 10th anti-Semitic incident to hit the New York/New Jersey area in just the last week.”
He mentioned the attack exemplified the need for increased security for the Jewish community.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the anti-Semitic attack in a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y., during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. We pray for the full recovery of those wounded by the assailant, who was reportedly carrying a machete,” said American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris in a statement. “And we thank law enforcement for its swift response and the later arrest of the alleged suspect in New York City.”
Outside the scene of a stabbing attack in Monsey, N.Y., on the seventh night of Hanukkah, Dec. 28, 2019. Credit: Wikipedia.Harris went on to say the attack exemplified a bigger issue.
“We are witnessing a full-fledged epidemic of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York region. In the last week alone, there has been at least one each day,” he said. “What we need is a sustained, get-tough, zero-tolerance policy by local and state officials. And that policy must take equally seriously each incident, whatever its source might be. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism.”
“We join with the entire Jewish community in expressing outrage at this attack, which is part of a growing epidemic of anti-Semitic violence,” stated the Jewish Federations of North America. “It is incomprehensible to think that we are not safe in a home, a supermarket, or a sanctuary for prayer. It is unacceptable.”
“All of us in the Jewish community share the pain of the Monsey community following this horrific act. The time for talk about anti-Semitic attacks is over—this is a time for action,” said Orthodox Union president Moishe Bane.
In a series of tweets, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations posted:
We’re outraged at the latest attack at a synagogue celebration in Monsey, N.Y. that reportedly left 5 wounded, several very seriously. There have been many attacks in the past week. There must be real measures by law enforcement, governmental leaders and judicial authorities at the city, state and federal levels. Immediate steps should be taken while longer term actions are pursued. There must be serious consequences for perpetrators. We urge leaders of religious, ethnic and other communities to speak out. All must work to end the incitement and join in clear condemnation of all who espouse hate.
New York police announced that they had apprehended the stabbing suspect, after his getaway car’s license plate number was reported by eyewitnesses.
“Jews in NY metro area again are targets of anti-Semitic violence. A machete attack at a Chanukah celebration in Monsey has left at least five hurt. Jews in Brooklyn, New Jersey and now Monsey are under daily threat. A concerted, real-time effort is needed at all levels of government and community to end these attacks,” tweeted B’nai B’rith International.
“We are shocked & saddened by the terrible attack in #NY & praying for the recovery of those injured. #Antisemitism is not just a #Jewish problem- we must all work together to confront this rising evil which is a real global threat. We need to talk about it, denounce it & stop it,” tweeted the Israeli embassy in the United States.
A number of organizations, including the ADL, stated they are working with authorities in the aftermath of the tragedy.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center called for U.S. President Donald Trump to create an FBI special taskforce in the aftermath of Saturday’s incident.
“Enough is enough! Jews should not have to fear for their lives in America to go to their houses of worship,” said SWC in a statement. “The FBI must step up and take the lead in all recent violent hate crimes targeting religious Jews. This in wake of a violent machete attack against Jewish worshippers in Monsey New York, Saturday night.”
On Sunday, Trump tweeted, “The anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York, on the 7th night of Hanukkah last night is horrific. We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism. Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery.”
Democrats looking to take on Trump in the 2020 election tweeted their condolences.
“The horrifying rise of antisemitism is tearing apart the fabric of our communities and the soul of this nation. We’ve got to stand together as a country and fight these flames of hatred,” tweeted former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. “My deepest sympathies are with the victims, their families, and the Jewish community.
“I’m heartsick for the victims of this horrific attack. This is unfortunately just the latest of a series of anti-Semitic attacks in New York and New Jersey. We must fight anti-Semitism and make clear that hateful bigotry has no place in our society,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“My prayers are with the victims of these horrific acts of anti-Semitism and hate. This cannot be tolerated. On the morning of the last night of Hanukkah, let us all rededicate ourselves to ensuring that light beats back darkness. Never again,” tweeted South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“I’m outraged by the knife attack in Monsey. We must confront this surge of anti-Semitic violence, prioritize the fight against bigotry, and bring people together—instead of dividing people up,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“My heart goes out to the victims in Monsey and the entire Jewish community. Anti-Semitism is a horrifying scourge that has no place in America. We must do all we can to prevent, punish and investigate these crimes and protect all who gather and worship in peace. We must do more,” tweeted entrepreneur Andrew Yang. “I have many Jewish friends and I can’t imagine how it must feel to have one’s community targeted in such a despicable fashion. It turns a time of celebration to one of fear and mourning.”
“As I said during my Dover town hall, this was a horrific act of anti-Semitic violence during a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York last night. We must combat hate crimes in every form at every turn. They do not belong in America and must stop,” tweeted Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“The senseless violence against people celebrating Hanukkah in Rockland County is despicable and it should shock our collective conscience. This was an act of domestic terrorism. My heart goes out to the victims and their families in Monsey, and to the entire Jewish community,” tweeted billionaire Tom Steyer.
“Heartbreaking news out of Monsey, New York tonight. My thoughts are with the Jewish community as they cope with what appears to be another hateful attack on their humanity during Hanukkah. We must combat the rise of anti-Semitism and hate,” tweeted former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) tweeted, “My heart breaks for the victims of this attack. No one should be afraid to worship, especially in their home. No one should be afraid because of who they are. We must stand together in the face of anti-Semitism and the daily attacks this week. We will not be divided.”
“The increasing frequency of anti-Semitic attacks is horrifying. We must all join to stop them in their tracks and root out the hatred and ignorance at their core. My heart is with the victims in Monsey, their families, and the entire Jewish community,” tweeted Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
“As an American, a New Yorker, & a Jew I am shocked and saddened by last night’s attack—and horrified by the rise of anti-Semitism in this country. America was founded to be a place where people of all religions could worship safely & free from persecution. And it can be again,” tweeted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The leadership of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations--consisting of Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Will Hurd (R-Texas), John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.)—also issued a statement.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the anti-Semitic attack in Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s home in Monsey, N.Y., during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah,” said the group in a statement.
“This surge in anti-Semitic attacks is a disturbing trend both here in the United States and abroad. We cannot tolerate these discriminatory, hateful and cowardly acts,” they continued. “We stand with the victims in Monsey, their families and the entire Jewish community, who have been victims of violent attacks during Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates religious freedom.”
AP News covered B'nai B'rith International's support for new interfaith initiatives being put forth in Porto, Portugal.
At an unprecedented meeting in Porto, Portugal, last week, the city’s Catholic and Jewish communities presented to the world a project to combat anti-Semitism and foster good mutual relations.
The project encompasses cooperation towards charities, the promotion of their museums and four films (on relations between Catholics and Jews in the city) whose revenues in Portugal will revert to institutions that support the elderly, children and the sick.
D. Manuel Linda, Bishop of Porto, said: “This project is a break with the past of misunderstandings and the certainty of a future made hand in hand. It is unique in the world, as Porto is unique. Whatever depends on our contribution, here in Porto, there will be no anti-Semitism, just as the Jewish Community has no anti-Catholic religious feelings.”
Gabriela Cantergi, member of the Jewish Community Council in charge of interreligious relations, explained that, “Social and cultural dialogue are necessary to achieve full friendship between the Roman Catholic Church and Jewish communities, particularly in societies where negative stereotypes they are entrenched, ignoring, for example, the fact that many Jews experience economic hardships.”
This global project has received financial and practical support from Jewish philanthropists and organizations such as B´nai B´rith International, the Anti-Defamation League and the Vatican.
Pope Francis wrote to the Jewish community of Porto saying that he, “Prays for the members of the community that they may always work together with the Church in a spirit of fraternity for the greater good of all men and wishes of great happiness to the community and all who belong to and guide it.”
In particular, the Pope highlighted one of four films produced by the Jewish community - “The Nun’s Kaddish” - a short film about a true story of interfaith kindness that took place in Porto in 1982 when two Catholic nuns observe a Jewish ritual, raising the spirituality of the two religions to a higher sense of universal brotherhood.
The Jewish Community of Porto, chaired by Dias Ben Zion, is made up of over 400 members from over 30 countries. It has the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula and a Jewish Museum which was inaugurated in June by the International President of B´nai B´rith. In his speech, Charles Kaufman said: “This Jewish Museum will punctuate the awakening of Jewish life in Portugal and should serve as a beacon of light for the rest of Europe, a land now obscured by resurgent anti-Semitism.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Porto, whose current Bishop is D. Manuel Linda, is the most populous in Portugal, with about 2 million people. It is based in the Episcopal Palace, the oldest and most distinguished Palace of Porto, which by its elevated position dominates the landscape of the historic city centre. The Episcopal Palace Museum, located in rooms of the Palace, is now open for visits to the general public and received a delegation from the local Jewish community last week.
The Jerusalem Post covered the Slovakian embassy's response to a letter sent by B'nai B'rith International urging action after a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in a town in northern Slovakia.
Slovakia's embassy in Washington sent a letter to the leaders of B'nai B'rith international on Monday, saying that the Slovak police have begun investigating the antisemitic incident last week, in which 59 headstones were smashed at Jewish cemetery of Námestovo, a town in northern Slovakia near the Polish border.
B'nai B'rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin sent a letter to the Slovak ambassador to the United States, Ivan Korčok, calling for the local authorities to investigate and find those responsible for the crime.
"These vicious acts of vandalism come at a time of a global spike in anti-Semitic acts worldwide," Kaufman and Mariaschin wrote. "Jewish communities depend on the active cooperation and support of national and local governments, together with law enforcement agencies, to protect the community against such incidents, and to vigorously pursue the perpetrators."
In response, the embassy of Slovakia assured the two that the police are investigating the crime. "You rightly underlined the need for national and local governments as well as law enforcement agencies to cooperate with the Jewish communities to protect them against such incidents, and to vigorously pursue the perpetrators," the letter reads. "I cannot agree more. We surely have to join forces and step up efforts – in criminal justice and especially in education."
"I would like to inform you that the investigator of the Slovak Police Department has already launched the process of criminal prosecution for a criminal offense of defamation of the last resting place," the embassy added. "I strongly believe that the authorities will be able to find offenders of this shameful act soon and punish them according to the law."
JNS covered B'nai B'rith International's response to the news that the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court expressed the belief that Israel could be investigated for potentially having committed crimes during its 2014 "Operation Protective Edge."
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor announced on Friday that a “basis” exists to probe into whether Israel committed crimes during the 2014 war with Gaza, known in Israel as “Operation Protective Edge,” when Hamas launched rockets into the Jewish state and Israel responded defensively.
“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine,” said Fatou Bensouda. “There is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed in the context of the 2014 hostilities in Gaza.”
While Israel is not a member nor recognizes the jurisdiction of the court, the Palestinians do belong. The latter requested the investigation five years ago.
“Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the ‘territory’ over which the court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza,” said Bensouda.
Israeli leadership blasted back at the announcement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it “has turned the International Criminal Court into a political tool to delegitimize the State of Israel. The prosecutor has completely ignored the legal arguments we presented to her.”
Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in a legal opinion, “By approaching the ICC, the Palestinians are seeking to breach the framework agreed to by the parties and to push the court to determine political issues that should be resolved by negotiations and not by criminal proceedings.”
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said “the prosecutor’s decision in the International Criminal Court reflects the anti-Israeli tendency rooted in The Hague; the institution is becoming nothing more than another partisan political tool to wield against the Jewish state.”
He continued, “This decision exposes the ICC’s desire to follow political considerations, not legal ones; Israel has legal and historical rights in the Land of Israel, which no court can change. This only serves to reward the Palestinian campaign to curry international favor instead of negotiating directly with Israel. It will not advance the cause of peace, but instead undermines the very institutions that are designed to promote international peace and security.”
“Clearly, Bensouda cannot tell the difference between war crimes and Palestinian propaganda,” said B’nai B’rith in a statement. “It is the Palestinians who have for decades subjected Israel to the high crimes of unrelenting, indiscriminate terrorism—thus necessitating Israeli defensive efforts—and an open campaign of national extermination. By contrast, despite singularly difficult circumstances, Israel, the Middle East’s only actual democracy, has carried out its pursuit of security with a degree of restraint and care rarely if ever seen in the history of military conflict.”
Washington Post - Trump’s executive order on anti-Semitism adds to the fierce campus debate about Israel and Palestinian rights
The Washington Post cited B'nai B'rith International's response to the White House's executive order charging the government with the responsibility to punish universities where anti-Semitism occurs.
President Trump added new fuel Wednesday to a long-simmering fight about how colleges should handle activism around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, signing a controversial executive order directing the federal government to penalize universities that allow anti-Semitism on campus.
Jewish Americans, from rabbis to college students, were deeply divided in their opinion of an order ostensibly meant to protect Jews. Advocates for Palestinian rights and for free speech on college campuses feared that the order might be used to punish students for criticism of Israel that they contend is political, not anti-Semitic.
On campuses across the country, including at George Washington University in the District, students and faculty are fighting over what constitutes bias against Jews and what is legitimate criticism of a foreign government.
Trump’s executive order called on executive agencies enforcing Title VI — which prohibits discrimination based on race or nationality in educational settings — to use a definition of anti-Semitism written by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The group defines many criticisms of Israel as examples of anti-Semitism, including “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
Such a definition could be used to paint anyone who opposes Israel’s government as an anti-Semite in the eyes of the Department of Education, said George Washington University student Yoni Slater. Slater, who is Jewish, is an activist with the organization J Street U, which frequently criticizes Israeli policy: The campus chapter, Slater said, is currently focused on demanding that the Democratic Party include a plank objecting to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in its 2020 platform.
“The executive order actually has felt, to me, really connected and parallel to a lot of the issues we’ve been seeing on my campus,” said Slater. “What it’s addressing is anti-Israel sentiment. And it’s using this performative front of fighting anti-Semitism. … That makes me, as a Jewish student who supports Palestinian rights, feel, if anything, less safe.”
But New York University senior Jordana Meyer, who grew in Chevy Chase, Md., and is a leader in an Israel-focused group on campus, called the executive order “completely necessary.”
A proud progressive who often disagrees with the Trump administration, Meyer was in Atlanta on Wednesday to speak on anti-Semitism at a conference of Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish campus organization. She has been embroiled in disputes regarding Israel at NYU and was targeted online by pro-Palestinian activists after posting an article on Facebook about women in the Israeli military.
“The magnitude of things that are happening on campus needs to be met with proportional response,” Meyer said, though she added that she found the conflation of Judaism with nationality troubling. “Given the language of Title VI, which protects race, color and national origin, this is the best that could happen.”
Universities have been pressured by both on-campus and off-campus groups to investigate and punish allegedly anti-Semitic speech, said Will Creeley, a senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, even as students and advocates fight bitterly over what is anti-Semitic and what is anti-Zionist.
Creeley said he had not seen the final version of the executive order, but based on his understanding of the text, it “has been crafted carefully in a way to paper over the inherent flaw in directing federal agencies to use a definition of anti-Semitism that reaches speech plainly protected by the First Amendment.”
The wording won’t prevent university officials from feeling that they are obligated to investigate and punish speech protected by the First Amendment, Creeley said. “We know that when the federal government tells colleges and universities to jump, they jump,” he said.
Elizabeth Midlarsky, a Jewish professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, arrived in 2018 at her office to find that it had been defaced by anti-Semitic symbols and language. (Rya Inman/Columbia Daily Spectator)Acts of anti-Semitism at the nation’s colleges have been so frequent that a 2017 Israeli study called American campuses “a hotbed of anti-Semitism.” In one of the higher-profile cases, Syracuse University was rattled this fall by a host of incidents: a swastika was drawn in the snow, an email referencing the Holocaust was sent to a Jewish professor and anti-Semitic slurs were scrawled in the bathrooms.
The executive order, like many of Trump’s policy moves related to Israel, drew approval from parts of his evangelical Christian base, while Jewish leaders were divided in their responses.
Liberal Jewish groups raised concerns. Many expressed alarm about including Jews in Title VI, which addresses discrimination based on race and nationality but not religious discrimination. They said they worried that the administration seemed to be classifying Judaism as a race or nationality, despite the fact that Jews have a variety of racial backgrounds and do not come from a single country or region.
“If Jews are so categorized, what might it mean at some future moment? Could it be turned against us?” asked Rabbi Deborah Waxman, the president of the liberal Reconstructionist denomination. Concerned about rising anti-Semitism and the government defining a religious identity, she described herself as “very torn” about the order.
ADIn a statement, the Jewish organization B’nai Brith said, “The order will help fight anti-Semitism on college campuses by making it possible for colleges and universities to lose federal funding if they discriminate against Jews.”
Meanwhile, the Orthodox Union, which represents one of the most politically conservative denominations of Judaism, praised the order. Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director of advocacy, said he had worked on the issue for years with the Education Department’s civil rights office.
He said the initial proposal was to add religion to the list of protected categories, adding Wednesday that he was unclear what happened to that approach. Regardless, he said, many Jews see Judaism as a peoplehood or a nation, and so do not feel offended by the concept.
A guest at the White House Hanukkah reception on Wednesday wears a “Make America Great Again” yarmulke. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)The Union for Reform Judaism, by far the largest denomination of American Jews, was uncharacteristically silent about its opinion of the executive order.
On college campuses across the country, the debate was lively and loud, even as students prepared for finals.
Abdulkader Sinno, an associate professor of political science and Middle Eastern studies at Indiana University, said he recently sponsored an American Civil Liberties Union lecture on campus that explored Palestinian human rights. In the future, he said, Trump’s order could prompt needless scrutiny of such events if university officials are worried about the potential loss of federal funds. That could produce a “chilling effect,” Sinno said. “It’s a major infringement on freedom of speech and our academic freedom.”
Bryce Greene, 21, an Indiana University senior from Indianapolis active with a group called the Palestine Solidarity Committee, said that too often, the charge of anti-Semitism is “weaponized” against advocates for Palestinian rights. “I don’t believe criticism of the state of Israel is anti-Semitic,” Greene said.
At George Washington University, a student’s video — which included a graphic indicating that it was filmed on the Jewish New Year’s holiday of Rosh Hashanah — convulsed the campus earlier this year. In the video, according to the Hatchet, the student newspaper, a person asks a student, “What are we going to do to Israel?” The student responds, “Bro, we’re going to f---ing bomb Israel, bro. F--- out of here, Jewish pieces of s---.”
University leaders condemned the video as anti-Semitic, with its profanity about Jewish people and its invocation of the religious holiday. But when student leaders started discussing what an appropriate response would be, the discussion led to discord about Israel. The student government ultimately passed a resolution creating a task force on anti-Semitism but voted against including a statement in the resolution that the state of Israel has the right to exist.
Jews who consider Israel central to their Jewish identity were distraught. Those on the other side felt attacked from within their own religious community.
“We end up feeling like people are telling us we’re not Jewish enough,” said Hannah Thacker, an opinion editor for the Hatchet who has written and spoken about anti-Semitism on campus. “When I think about anti-Semitism and the things that face students on this campus, I don’t think about Israel and anti-Israel statements first. I think about the friends I have that have had swastikas drawn on their doors.”
The executive order, she said, will keep those fights about Israel going without solving the problem of religious bias that troubles her more.
The Jerusalem Post covered the posthumous awarding of two Jewish Rescuers Citations by B'nai B'rith International's World Center-Jerusalem.
■ YAD VASHEM frequently has ceremonies to award the title “Righteous Among the Nations” to non-Jews (or their closest living relatives) who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust period. It took many years before Yad Vashem expanded its rescue recognition to Jews who saved other Jews.
Recognizing such Jews was no problem for the B’nai B’rith World Center, which annually hosts a ceremony honoring the memories of Jews who saved other Jews, and since initiating such recognition in 2011 has honored 280 European Jews. Last week its Jewish Rescuers Citation was presented posthumously to Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, the chief rabbi of Florence, who during the war years headed his city’s Jewish underground, and Matilda Cassin, a member of the underground, whose members also included Christian clergy.
This accounted for the presence, at the presentation ceremony in Jerusalem’s Italian Synagogue, of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Notwithstanding the vast improvement in relations between Catholics and Jews since the Second Vatican Council and the issuing of the Nostra Aetate and other declarations of esteem for Judeo-Christian teachings and for the Jewish people, representatives of the Catholic Church still feel a sense of embarrassment when discussing Catholic involvement in the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. Pizzaballa even said as much.
There were numerous instances where Catholics – both clergy and laypeople – risked their lives to save Jews, but there are the controversial issues of pre-Holocaust teachings of the Church which cast Jews in an extremely negative light, coupled with a wide belief that Pope Pius XII did not speak loud enough or often enough in his criticism of Nazism, and did not do enough to save Jews. Evidence has surfaced in recent years that he did much more than people realize, but that he did it so discreetly that even the people he saved were unaware of the identity of their benefactor.
Ethnos covered the first Israel-Hellenic Forum, which took place in Jerusalem in November and which was organized by B'nai B'rith International.
The first Israel-Hellenic Forum took place in Jerusalem between the 12th and the 14th of November, with the participation of diplomats, academics, technocrats and journalists from Israel, Greece and Cyprus. It was initiated by B’nai B’rith International, an organization which is active among the Jewish diaspora since 1843 and maintains permanent representation in the United Nations since 1960. The first Israel-Hellenic Forum came as the result of the long-lasting cooperation between B’nai B’rith and the Greek-American lobby. I had the honor and the pleasure to be invited in the event and participate as a speaker, attempting a brief overview of Greek-Israeli relations before the two countries realize the multiple possibilities of regional cooperation.
ADVERTISINGThe pro-Arab stance Greek governments were adopting in the international fora for decades was criticized in various ways in Israel, beginning from its establishment in 1948 and up to 2010. From 2010 onwards, those criticisms are somehow forgotten. Nevertheless, Israeli questions still remain, as to what exactly prompted Greece to criticize severely their country's policy during the past. Now, it seems to be the right time for rational answers.
In 1947 Greece voted against the UN Partition Plan, according to which two States were to be established in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab. Back then, in Israel, Greece's ‘No-vote’ was perceived as anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli and purely anti-Semitic. However, had the Greek State been anti-Semitic, Greek Authorities would have banned the operation of local Jewish organizations – mainly in Thessaloniki – which were actively advocating Zionist ideals by promoting Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine during the 1920s and 1930s. Such practice from the part of the Greek administration never happened.
The Greek rejection of the UN Partition Plan can be explained easily. Back in 1947 the Civil War in Greece raged and the government in Athens needed British backing. The UN Partition Plan would officially bring to an end the British Mandate in Palestine, and this development was conceived by Athens as a clear sign the beginning of London’s withdrawal from the Eastern Mediterranean. Back then, such possibility scared Athens. By saying “No” to the Partition Plan, the British-backed Greek government was actually stating in a firm way its desire for Britain to remain in the region. A similar pro-British statement was made by Turkey as well – a fact we often tend to forget -. A firm Turkish declaration against the end of the British Mandate in Palestine aimed to make clear that Turkey was willing to become a part of the post-War West and that its previous important period of neutrality came already to an end.
It is obvious that Athens had no reason to wish or not to wish the creation of a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine. Actually, Greece was the country that hosted the first UN peacekeeping mediation to end the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. From June 1948 to April 1949, Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian negotiators were hosted in Rhodes, where they signed the Armistice Agreements of 1949, which essentially split Palestine into two. During the Rhodes Armistice Negotiations, Greek diplomacy was too careful not to express any position whatsoever, in order not to be seen as supportive of the irrevocable British withdrawal, nor supported of Israelis or Arabs. It was the choice of Greek diplomacy to seem as absent as possible, while at the same time it was promoting the then Mayor of Rhodes, Gabriel Haritos, to manage Greece’s good services within the framework of the host country’s duties.
However, excessive neutrality led to misunderstandings, leading to diplomatic paradoxes. While the boundaries of Israel’s territory were essentially defined by the Armistice Agreements which were signed on Greek soil, the Greek State itself decided not to recognize Israel neither de jure nor de facto. A Greek Consul served in Jerusalem since 1862, initially accredited to the Ottomans and later to the British Authorities. From 1948 and for four consequent years, the Greek Consul was not accredited neither to the Israeli nor to the Jordanian Authorities, which were in control of the two parts of the city.
Greece's diplomatic “self-standing” presence in Jerusalem – which was by then, according to Israeli, the country’s capital - ended in 1952, when Athens recognized Israel de facto (due to US pressure, since Greece was about to become a NATO member-State). But that de facto recognition, instead of clearing up the picture, it lead to a new diplomatic paradox: The Greek Consul in Jerusalem was renamed "Diplomatic Representative of Greece to the Israeli Government". In other words, Greece was recognizing the Israeli government de facto, while it was not totally clear whether that recognition was referring to the Israeli State itself.. This question remained unanswered not sooner that in May 1990, when both countries decided to normalize their diplomatic relations.
In the 1950s, the Cyprus Conflict monopolized the Greek foreign policy agenda. It was the decade that Greece conducted a difficult diplomatic struggle within the framework of the UN General Assembly, where Israel had only one vote and the Arab countries much more. The Greek pro-Arab stance was the result of a simple ‘vote-counting rationale’. The same rationale was applied even after the signing of the 1959 London-Zurich Agreements on Cyprus, because Athens was trying to preserve the presence of the Greek Diaspora in Nasserist Egypt. In the early 1960s, even after the massive displacement of the Greek community in Egypt, Athens was hoping for a compensation agreement with the Nasserist regime – a hope that never came true. Nevertheless, Greece felt that this ‘vote-counting rationale’ would be useful in the UN, due to the clash between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, from the end of 1963 and onwards. Greece could not possibly ignore all these facts. Greek-Israeli diplomatic normalization would diminish any possibility of pro-Greek Arab votes, mainly in the UN or elsewhere.
1967 has been a turning point for Greek-Israeli relations. Both Greece and Israel found themselves isolated diplomatically - the first due to the establishment of a military regime following the coup on April 21, 1967, the latter due to the Six Day War. For the backstage contacts between Athens and Jerusalem, History still has much to tell. Despite the sudden change of atmosphere between the two countries, Greece avoided to express any clear stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict, lest its critics multiply. Israel was experiencing exactly the same fear and careful reluctancy characterized its public approach toward military-ruled Greece at that specific period of time.
With the Transition to Democracy (1975), the “vote-counting rationale” became again the main criteria about Greece’s decision to normalize its ties with Israel or not. Due to Turkey’s invasion to Cyprus in 1974, Greece was once again in need of the numerous Arab votes in the UN. Greek diplomacy was renewing its pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian agenda throughout the 1980s. It was back then, when Turkey was trying to legitimize its faits accomplis in Cyprus by encouraging the Muslim (and Arab) Stated to diplomatically recognize the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (“TRNC”) – the administrative entity established by Turkey on November 15, 1983.
That was exactly the period when Greece was cultivating close political ties with Libya. The Greek-Libyan connection seemed to surprise Greece’s Western allies at that times. Nevertheless, that approach was revealing Athens' anxiety to avoid any possibility of an Arab recognition of the “TRNC”. Greece did not forget that in the summer of 1974, Gaddafi’s Libya was the only country to congratulate Turkey for its invasion of Cyprus. The reason was simple: Gaddafi wanted to legitimize his country’s its invasion to Northern Chad, which occurred two years beforehand, in 1972. Since Colonel Gaddafi was not controlled by the West, Greek PM Andreas Papandreou wisely decided to woo him, in order to avoid any Libyan act of recognition of the "TRNC". And Greece did manage to prevent such a move.
On the other hand, Greece wanted to prevent a parallel move from the moderate Sunni Arab States of the Gulf. The cultivation of warm ties with PLO’s Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian cause in general was viewed by Andreas Papandreou’s administration as a strategic choice, which did prevent a massive Arab diplomatic recognition of the “TRNC” on the one hand, while on the other hand reassured the Hellenic ethnic character of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem during the period of the First Intifada. Nevertheless, Turkish diplomatic efforts succeeded to grant “TRNC” the “observer status” at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
In the 1990s, the Oslo Accords changed the balance between Israel and the Arab world. This development created the momentum for Greece to normalize its relations with Israel. Since 2010, the newly revealed natural gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean were meant to become the main catalyst, resulting in a solid common ground, upon which the ongoing multidimensional regional cooperation is taking place, along with the Republic of Cyprus.
JNS.org covered B'nai B'rith International's response to the news that the Belgian town of Aalst will remove itself from UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list due to its inclusion of an anti-Semitic float during its carnival in March of 2019.
A Belgian town has decided to drop itself from the list of United Nations’ cultural heritage sites in order to keep a carnival that in March featured a float that depicted large-nosed religious Jews sitting on bags of money.
The decision came a week ahead of a U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting in Colombia, where one of the topics was whether Aalst should stay on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
The European Union and the European Jewish Association have vocally criticized the carnival that has taken place since 2010.
Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese said that city officials were tired of the complaints that the event was anti-Semitic. He told Flemish broadcaster VTM that the officials “have had it a bit with the grotesque complaints, and Aalst will renounce its UNESCO recognition.”
Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top stories“It was clear that we had to go, so we kept the honor to ourselves,” he added.
Organizers of the 2020 event published 150 caricatures mocking Jews ahead of the event.
The caricatures, which feature Orthodox Jews with red, hooked noses and golden teeth, were printed on ribbons for participants.
“A one-off is a one-off, and we hoped that this was the case with the disgusting images at last year’s carnival. Instead, these ribbons represent a willful desire to offend,” said European Jewish Association chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin in October. “The thing about a joke is that it is supposed to make everyone laugh. And we Jews have a fantastic sense of humor. But no Jew anywhere in Europe is laughing.”
The ribbon-makers have argued that the they are in the spirit of the carnival, which is known for its over-the-top satirical take on religion, politics and culture.
“It is unacceptable that the parade retained its listing for six years after featuring the Holocaust caricature,” said B’nai B’rith International in a statement on Monday. “To prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future, UNESCO must create a de-listing mechanism for items on the cultural heritage list. Currently, no event has ever been de-listed.”
JBS News Update - B'nai B'rith International among Organizations Condemning Anti-Semitic Float at Carnival in Aalst, Belgium
JBS News covered B'nai B'rith International's statement condemning the anti-Semitic float featured during a carnival in Aalst, Belgium.
The Times of Israel covered the posthumous awarding of two Jewish Rescuers Citations to Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Matilda Cassin for their courageous work saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
A posthumous award was granted Tuesday in Jerusalem to the former chief rabbi of Florence who was a leader of the Italian city’s Jewish-Christian underground rescue network during the Holocaust.
The Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews during the Holocaust and the Bnai Brith World Center granted the award to Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, as well as honoring Matilda Cassin, a member of the underground.
The citations were presented to Asher Varadi, Cassin’s son, and David Cassuto, son of Rabbi Cassuto.
The Jewish-Christian rescue network in Florence was led by Cassuto and Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, the Archbishop of Florence, who was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2012.
After Rabbi Cassuto was arrested by the Nazis, deported and sent to his death, the network continued functioning.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, addressed the ceremony on Tuesday, and said that there still had not been a full reckoning of the Church’s actions as well as inaction during the Holocaust.
“The Church has not yet completed its reading of what happened during the Holocaust. Even if it is discussed less today, that period remains like a stone in the relationship between us. While some Christians – among them Catholics, including clergy – cooperated with Jews to rescue Jews from deportation, we must recognize the silence of many other Catholics,” Pizzaballa said.
“Though the Church was not directly responsible for the Holocaust, we must recognize that the ‘teaching of contempt’ that emanated over hundreds of years also from the Church and influenced the mentality of the European populations, contributed, unfortunately, to what happened,” the archbishop said.
Gino Bartali during the 1938 Tour de France, which he won. (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)In 2013, champion cyclist Gino Bartali was recognized when a ceremony was held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem to honor his help in rescuing Jews as part of Florence’s Jewish-Christian rescue network. Bartali was inducted into the prestigious garden of the Righteous Among the Nations for his work during the German occupation of Italy.
The 1938 Tour de France winner aided the Jewish-Christian rescue network in his hometown of Florence and the surrounding area by shuttling forged documents and papers hidden in the tubes and seat of his bike. He also hid a family.
Eighty percent of the Jews in Italy survived the war, according to the Italy and the Holocaust Foundation.
However, more than 7,000 Jews were deported under Benito Mussolini’s regime, and nearly 6,000 of them were killed.
In the News
B'nai B'rith International is the Global Voice of the Jewish Community.
All rights reserved. Stories are attributed to the original copyright holders.