It’s long been an article of faith in the pro-Israel community that the increasing attacks on Israel’s legitimacy that are part of the BDS movement have morphed from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism.
Now, it appears, the U.S. government agrees.
The Trump administration, in announcing its adoption of a universally accepted definition of anti-Semitism for use on college campuses, could significantly impact how the Israel wars play out in higher education nationwide. If implemented, it would undermine the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement that seeks to isolate Israel politically and economically just as it has been gaining traction on U.S. campuses. And, in an additional step, the Department of Justice is now including Jews within the Title VI definition of groups that are protected from discrimination based on ethnicity.
The decisions were applauded by most Jewish groups this week after the Trump administration announced that they would reopen a case of alleged discrimination against Jews who were charged admission to a free program sponsored by a pro-Palestinian group at Rutgers University in 2011.
The Department of Justice’s new assistant secretary in the Office of Civil Rights, Kenneth Marcus, informed the Zionist Organization of America in an Aug. 27 letter that he has decided to re-examine the case after an earlier complaint by the ZOA had been dismissed. In so doing, he wrote that he would be including Jews within the Title VI definition of groups that are protected from discrimination based on “actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” Among other groups already included are African-Americans and Hispanics.
“In determining whether students face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry, we rely where appropriate upon widely established definitions of anti-Semitism,” Marcus wrote, adding that the department would embrace one adopted two years ago by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and that was recommended last year for use by the European Parliament.
In the Rutgers case, a $5 admission fee was added, according to an email, because “150 Zionists just showed up.” The email added, “if someone looks like a supporter, they can get in for free.”
Marcus said also in his letter that his office would be opening an investigation of Rutgers to “determine whether a hostile environment on the basis of national origin or race currently exists at the university for students of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
Mort Klein, president of the ZOA, said the action of the pro-Palestinian group, Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action, was clearly anti-Semitic.
“It was a Jew-bashing event that had been advertised as free and [when Jews showed up] they said Jews would be charged,” he said. “That is an example of discrimination because they were Jews. It has nothing to do with their practice of Judaism.”
Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said he did not “know where the review will lead, but it allows the department to say it is employing the working definition of anti-Semitism” that is now widely accepted.
“There was always a question of where the criticism of Israel crossed over to be a form of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Definitions are meant to be guidelines, not etched in stone. Certain expressions can be recognized as being anti-Semitic. That was always the importance of the definition. Now it has gained more acceptance internationally — [Great Britain’s] Labor Party has just accepted it.”
Rabbi Baker noted that “Marcus in his letter says that when you look at a question of whether there is a hostile environment for Jews on campus and how you determine it, the definition is a helpful way of understanding what could be anti-Semitism. Then you have to determine at what point there is a hostile environment [for Jews] and what is the university doing about it. What we saw in the UK is how the word Zionist could be a substitute for Jew. We have said use the definition but be mindful of free speech. And on college campuses there is a significant debate about where free speech should end. …. This is the challenge for every university.”
Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, also welcomed the decision, saying it is a “reflection of the way we look at anti-Semitism in the 21st century. … I believe what we have here is a course correction to what anti-Semitism is. I think for too long the cover of saying this is only legitimate criticism is now being exposed in many cases. This is discrimination based on ethnicity — and now we are going to see more of it” being recognized for what it is.
“The defamation of Israel is so prevalent in today’s battle with anti-Semitism that something like this is to be expected,” he added. [Former Secretary of State] Colin Powell said at a 2004 conference on anti-Semitism that [one has crossed the line] when Israel or its leaders are demeaned or vilified by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures. The most recent definition of anti-Semitism includes denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming their state is a racist endeavor and applying a double standard by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he too agrees with the Marcus’ decision.
“Every person has a right to criticize anybody else,” he said. “This is a free country. But when the only criticism you ever utter is directed against the State of Israel — and you refuse to do the same for other countries — that is anti-Semitism. It means you have a problem with Jews — and that is also my criticism of the United Nations. Look at its history of U.N. resolutions. … These are not political discussions but a form of bigotry.”
And Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a tweet: “Without prejudging outcome of the process, academic freedom & strongly held political views are not a shield to harass or intimidate students and/or treat them differently because of their race or religion. No matter who is targeted, that’s bias plain & simple.”
But criticism of the decision came from the pro-Israel lobbying group J Street, which said in a statement that reopening the case demonstrates that the Trump administration “is inclined to suppress criticism of Israel on college campuses — even if that means trampling on constitutionally-protected free speech.”
“Its reopening is not about upholding civil rights or a serious effort to combat anti-Semitism, but about advancing a right-wing agenda that seeks to silence open discussion and debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” it said. “To do so, the Trump administration intends to wield a controversial definition of anti-Semitism that equates criticism of Zionism with anti-Semitism — and which was never intended for use on college campuses.
Ken Stern, the renowned anti-Semitism expert (and former CEO of National Public Radio and lifelong Democrat) who authored this definition, has argued vehemently against its application to college life, publicly opposing proposed congressional legislation that would codify it into U.S. law.
“Stern has written that ‘If this bill becomes law it is easy to imagine calls for university administrators to stop pro-Palestinian speech … students and faculty members will be scared into silence, and administrators will err on the side of suppressing or censuring speech.’ That is likely precisely what Marcus and his backers now intend.”
Echoing that refrain is Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, who told The Jewish Week in an email: “Instead of aiming to address real instances of anti-Semitism, the Trump administration is trying to violate students’ First Amendment rights by shutting down all criticism of Israel.”
“Like any country, Israel is subject to having its laws, policies, and leadership criticized — even if some may disagree with such criticisms, even vehemently,” she said. “At a time when the Trump administration is allying itself with white supremacists, attacking immigrants and refugees, and decreasing enforcement of most civil rights offenses, we do not need bogus policies that shut down campus free speech, while likely stirring up anger against the very Jewish students they purport to protect.”
But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, insisted that “this case has nothing to do with speech. They were charging $5 for Zionists – meaning Jews.”
He noted that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has already been adopted by the Senate and that the Wiesenthal Center hopes that “by the end of the session it will also pass the House. If it becomes law, it means we will have a working definition of anti-Semitism” that would not be subject of interpretation by each new administration.
The co-founder of CEO of StandWithUs, Roz Rothstein, said in a statement that at the same time her international Israel education organization “strongly supports free speech, open discourse about Israeli policy, and protections against discrimination,” it applauds the Department of Education “for adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This definition is already being used by the EU, Canada, U.S. State Department, and most importantly, the majority of the organized Jewish community. The loudest opponents of the definition should stop promoting hate against Israel and the Jewish people, instead of engaging in cynical attempts to avoid accountability.”
The Jewish Broadcasting Service covered the opening of B'nai B'rith International's Disaster Relief Fund to support communities impacted by the California wildfires and the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii. Watch here:
Harold “Hesch” Steinberg, current Disaster Relief Committee chair of B’nai B’rith International, was featured in a recent issue of The Hebrew Watchman. Read about his volunteer work below.
False Claims Made by Massachusetts Bishop Demonstrate Deeper Pattern of Anti-Israel Prejudice Among Mainline Protestants, US Jewish Leader Says
The Algemeiner interviewed B'nai B'rith CEO and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin for its story on Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris, who publicly asserted having seen Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers commit atrocities against Palestinians. Harris claimed that IDF soldiers killed a teenager by shooting him ten times, and handcuffed a 3-year-old boy whose ball fell over the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The allegations were made during debate over a litany of anti-Israel resolutions considered at the Episcopal convention.
A long-established tendency among US mainline Protestant denominations to “blindly accept and repeat the Palestinian narrative” is ultimately responsible for the fabricated claims of Israeli human rights abuse made by a Massachusetts Episcopalian bishop that resulted in her apologizing over the weekend, a veteran US Jewish leader said on Tuesday.
“Over more than a decade, we’ve seen attempts by mainline groups to adopt BDS resolutions and other one-sided resolutions,” Daniel Mariaschin — the Washington, DC-based CEO of B’nai B’rith International — told The Algemeiner in an interview.
These efforts, said Mariaschin, “have wound up, frankly, at the point where Bishop Harris said what she said.”
Bishop Gayle Harris, who serves as a suffragan (assisting) bishop in the Massachusetts diocese, falsely told the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in a July 3 speech that Israeli troops had carried out a gruesome execution of a Palestinian teenage boy.
Without citing a location or a date, Harris claimed that after an argument with Israeli troops, the boy had fled in panic.
“They shot him in the back four times,” Harris asserted. “He fell on the ground and they shot him again another six.”
In the same speech, she also claimed — again without any citation — that a three-year old Palestinian child in eastern Jerusalem was handcuffed by the IDF after his rubber ball accidentally bounced onto the Western Wall Plaza, where thousands of Jews worship daily.
Both these stories were fabrications. Over the weekend, Harris said that she had been “speaking from my passion for justice for all people, but I was repeating what I received secondhand.”
She continued: “I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so.”
Harris’ immediate senior, the Rt. Rev. Alan Gates, added that the church “grieve(s) damage done to our relationships with Jewish friends and colleagues in Massachusetts, and (would) rededicate ourselves to those partnerships, in which we are grateful to face complexities together.”
Mariaschin commented that Harris’ original allegations demonstrated “how little she knows about the subject and her judgment.” He continued: “We’re talking here about clergy who exercise a great deal of influence over parishioners and congregants in their communities.” Mariaschin emphasized while the controversy over Harris’ claims “happened to become public, this kind of thing has been going on for years.”
Describing Harris’ comments as a “real time example of repeating lies and taking false information at face value by an otherwise responsible member of the clergy,” Mariaschin said that she “should have known better.”
“If it took her diocese to explain this and she still doesn’t get it, then there is a problem there as well,” he added.
The B’nai B’rith chief warned of a repeat of such controversies as long as “you engage in blood libels like this.”
“This kind of thinking then goes to the annual meetings, where hours and hours on end are spent trading these kinds of stories and exchanging these kinds of opinions, which then wind up in BDS resolutions,” Mariaschin explained. “This has inflicted terrible harm on us over the years.”
A total of eight resolutions attacking Israel were tabled at the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in early July, where Harris made her comments.
In one resolution on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations adopted by the convention, the prospect of a so-called “one-state solution” — whereby Israel would cease to exist as a Jewish and democratic state — was raised as a serious option.
Efforts to resolve the conflict “may encompass other solutions such as one binational state or confederation, recognizing that these possibilities are being raised as the material conditions for a two-state solution have deteriorated due to accelerated [Israeli] settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the Oslo Accords [the Israeli-Palestinian agreement of 1993] were signed,” the resolution argued.
JNS included our statement in its coverage of the latest rocket fire from Gaza. Last week Hamas fired more than 150 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli neighborhoods.
Members of Congress and the American Jewish community are reacting to the most recent escalation between Hamas and Israel, with the former firing rockets from Gaza into the latter.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) posted on Twitter, “150 rockets fired at Israel from Hamas and other terrorists last night. 11 wounded. Israel has the right to defend itself from any attacks on its people. These attacks must stop. Hamas’ brutality continues to threaten the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.”
Similarly, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, “strongly condemned” the rocket fire.
“I support Israel’s right to self-defense. No one should have to live under this threat, and no country should be asked to sit on its hands while citizens face a barrage of rockets,” Engel said in a statement.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) said that he stands with Israel.
“As a key national security partner, we must strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said on Twitter. “With the latest rocket attacks, Hamas continues to escalate conflict rather than seek peace.”
“[Tuesday] night in the largest escalation of violence by Hamas since 2014, terrorists fired over 180 rockets into Israel’s southern region injuring innocent civilians,” Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) posted on Facebook. “These violent attacks by Hamas must come to an end. I stand with Israel in its right to defend itself and protect its people.”
Meanwhile, the Jewish organizations expressed their outrage over the Hamas rocket barrage as well as their support.
“B’nai B’rith International is outraged by the Hamas rocket barrage against Israel, and we stand in solidarity with the Jewish state,” said B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin.
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations also expressed solidarity with Israel.
“We express solidarity with the people of the State of Israel who have been consistently terrorized by the rocket and mortar attacks, incendiary balloons and border infiltrations carried out by members of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” said chairman Arthur Stark and executive vice chairman/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein. “Since May 2018, nearly 650 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip targeting Israeli population centers, and, in the last 24 hours alone, over 150 rockets have been launched, representing only the latest examples of violence in Hamas’s violations of international law, civic and human rights.”
“We support the measures taken by the government of Israel to protect and defend civilian lives, and hope that its actions will bring about a swift end to these indiscriminate attacks,” continued Stark and Hoenlein. “No country would or should put up with these violations of its territorial integrity or security of its citizens.”
A ceasefire mediated by Egypt was reached between Israel late Thursday evening.
“We look forward to the day when the residents of Israel’s south can live in peace and without constant threat,” said Stark and Hoenlein.
A year after Charlottesville: the far right in the United States is making a show of power in Washington
Israel’s Channel 11 included an interview B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin did with Reuters on the one year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Algemeiner included a statement from B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the Administration's call to reform the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner’s push to reform the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) is a welcome development, a number of officials with leading American Jewish groups told The Algemeiner this week.
Kushner’s efforts were first reported in Foreign Policy magazine, which said that in a series of internal emails, the adviser stated, “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA. … This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”
Furthermore, Kushner reportedly asked Jordan during a June visit to the Hashemite kingdom to remove two million of its Palestinian citizens from the refugee rolls, effectively making UNRWA’s activities in the country irrelevant.
UNRWA was originally set up to serve refugees displaced in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. At first designed to be temporary body, it is now seven decades old and is embedded deeply in Palestinian society, serving, for example, as the single largest employer in the Gaza Strip. Critics accuse it of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by counting descendants of the 1948 refugees as refugees themselves, as well as engaging in anti-Israel activities and cooperating with terrorist organizations.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations commented on the reports of Kushner’s efforts, telling The Algemeiner on Wednesday, “It is long overdue that the UNRWA mandate and activities be reviewed. For too long, UNRWA has been given a pass despite their support for and tolerance of anti-Israel activities and incitement, allowing their institutions to be utilized by terrorist organizations, let alone the designation of third-generation descendants as refugees on the UN dole.”
“We all want to see humanitarian needs met, but UNRWA’s antiquated and corrupt structure, as it exists today, is not the answer,” he added.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper — the associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center — noted, “It’s basically saying that the US approach to regional peace is to take a very aggressive look and action against the current status quo. … As long as you have the so-called Right of Return hanging over discussion where the numbers of ‘refugees’ continue to burgeon, there’s no chance of ever closing a deal.”
In regard to the possible Jordanian response to Kushner’s request, Cooper said, “The Jordanian monarch, he’s married to a Palestinian, making a move like that comes with its own set of problems and dangers.” Jordan, he added, might seek financial compensation from the US if it adopted such a policy.
“It’s a very interesting and out of the box move by Jared Kushner and the peace team,” Cooper pointed out. “There’s a lot riding on it, if this is an accurate depiction and I think it probably is. And if Jordan at the end of the day agrees, it gives further impetus” to UNRWA reforms.
Hillel Neuer of UN Watch also commented on the reports, saying, “There is political pressure on Jordan to discriminate against its citizens of Palestinian descent, but that is wrong. Jordan should listen to Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, who recently called for their full integration. Instead of UNRWA schools and hospitals, he said Switzerland could support Jordanian facilities to promote the integration of Palestinian refugees.”
“By feeding the false hope of a return to family homes in Israel abandoned in a war years before most of them were even born, UNRWA is only harming this population,” Neuer continued. “It’s time for Jordan to take responsibility for all its citizens equally.”
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President and CEO Daniel Mariaschin criticized UNRWA, calling it “a corrupt and politicized organization, and the attention given to its extensive list of misdeeds is long overdue.”
“It has willingly played a role in perpetuating the conflict rather than resolving it,” he charged. “It follows its own rules, despite UN guidelines on what constitutes a refugee.”
“Immediate steps should be taken to eliminate those programs which incite against Israel and Jews,” Mariaschin went on to say, “and it needs to sever its ties with Palestinian extremist groups that have used UNRWA to advance their own destructive aims. Comprehensive reforms must be immediate; ultimately, UNRWA’s work should be merged into the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, which oversees aid programs for all other refugees, globally.”
American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris told The Algemeiner, “In principle, the current situation is untenable and indefensible. Unlike any other people on earth, Palestinians are classified as ‘refugees’ from generation to generation — in other words, in perpetuity. Plus, again uniquely, the UN’s mandate is not their resettlement, but rather the perpetuation of their current status.”
Harris sounded a note of caution, however, emphasizing that “absurd as the status quo is, it can’t be scuttled in its entirety overnight unless another means of dealing with large-scale educational and welfare issues is found both for the West Bank and especially Gaza, or else a bad situation could become even worse. Alas, under present circumstances, that’s easier said than done.”
Azvision.az interviewed Eric Fusfield, B’nai B’rith deputy director at the Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, on the rise of global anti-Semitism and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Exclusive interview with Eric Fusfield, Deputy Director at B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy.
-The new law on the national character of the Jewish state is still very topic. Not only Israel, but Europe and the USA are also discussing it. How necessary was to adopt the law?
The law is an affirmation of Israel’s status as a Jewish state and a democracy with equal rights for its minority citizens. Israel’s role as the eternal homeland of the Jewish people has always been a core aspect of the country’s identity; the law does not change that.
- Do you agree that, as some say, the law on the national character of Israel might complicate the resolution of the Palestinian-Jewish conflict?
On the contrary, it is crucial to underscore the right of Jews to self-determination in their homeland; there can be no two-state solution without international acceptance of this key principle. The United Nations has affirmed the Palestinian right to self-determination many times, but pays little regard to the equivalent Jewish right. This law should facilitate, rather than hinder, a resolution of the conflict.
- How do you see the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
The key to a lasting settlement of the conflict is direct negotiation between the two parties over core issues, such as borders, refugees, security issues, water rights, and the status of Jerusalem. There can be no solution imposed by the UN or other outside parties. Similarly, sanctions or boycotts of Israel are an impediment to peace, because they disincentivize the Palestinians to negotiate.
- How do you assess the situation with antisemitism in the world?
Anti-Semitism is a growing problem around the globe. The problem has been most acute in Europe, where antisemitism has reasserted itself as a cultural virus and even gained potency in many respects. Today antisemitism often manifests itself in the form of virulent anti-Israel hatred that exceeds legitimate political discourse by incorporating traditional antisemitic motifs and by attempting to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state, or apply double standards to it.
- What kind of work does B'nai B'rith do to curb cases of antisemitism?
Through its global advocacy before national governments and international organizations, B’nai B’rith works to increase awareness of the contemporary dimensions of antisemitism. We call on governments, organizations, and civil society to adopt constructive measures in the areas of law enforcement, hate crime monitoring, data collection, and education and training. We also call on public officials and civil society leaders to condemn and publicly stigmatize antisemitism.
The Balkan Insight interviewed B’nai B’rith Bulgaria Vice President Solomon Bali on the trend of selling memorabilia disguised as Nazi propaganda.
The images of Bulgarian national heroes and political leaders appear on mugs and fridge magnets next to those of Stalin, Hitler and Communist leader Todor Zhivkov on vendors’ stalls around the country.
Mugs and fridge magnets with the images of totalitarian dictators like Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler are being widely sold alongside those of Bulgarian historical figures and political leaders from the present day on stalls and by a range of vendors around the country.
Traditionally, such memorabilia has been sold at touristic locations, such as the Bulgarian seaside resorts of Sozopol and Nesebar, but some folklore festivals have also seen stalls selling Nazi and Communist trinkets.
The Bulgarian branch of B’nai B’rith, an international Jewish organisation, warned against the distribution of Nazi propaganda in the form of memorabilia.
“We insist that [state] institutions do what it takes to put a halt to this tendency so that it does not turn out that Bulgaria is the only EU country that promotes [this ideology] through the lack of institutional action,” said Solomon Bali, the vice-president of the European branch of B’nai B’rith.
Vendors at the annual winter Surva festival in Pernik, which brings together masquerade groups from across Bulgaria and beyond, also sold similar mugs with the faces of controversial figures from the past next to others bearing the images of the last king of the country, Boris III, and the national hero of Bulgarian independence, Vasil Levski.
Similar memorabilia has also been on sale at some political events.
Most recently, mugs featuring the faces of Stalin, Russian president Vladimir Putin, the ex-communist leader of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov, and the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Kornelia Ninova, were sold at the annual socialist convention near Buzludzha peak in the Central Balkan mountains.
This sparked outrage among political opponents of the Socialists, with the European People’s Party MEP Andrey Kovachev writing on Facebook that “the communist plague is trying to break Bulgaria once again!”
Under the Bulgarian criminal code, people who preach fascist or any other anti-democratic ideology can be punished with a prison sentence of up to three years or fined up to 5,000 leva (2,500 euros).
But the Bulgarian authorities have consistently failed to instigated criminal proceedings.
Since 2016, Bulgaria has also had a law that bans the public display of communist symbols - a law that is also rarely observed.
The Art Newspaper mentioned us in an article on the current legal battle the Metropolitan Museum of Art is facing over Pablo Picasso’s “The Actor.” It is believed that German Jewish collector Paul Leffmann sold the painting in order to escape from Italy after fleeing from Nazi Germany. B’nai B’rith signed onto the brief in support of the Leffmann estate in its efforts to have the property returned.
The legal battle over Picasso’s painting The Actor (around 1904-05), which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is not quite over. An appeal has been brought in federal court in New York by the estate of Alice Leffmann, challenging a lower court’s dismissal of its claim on the work, which it says was sold under duress during the Nazi era. The Met is opposing the appeal and stands by its ownership of the painting.
Now one of the most recognised works from Picasso’s “Rose period”, The Actor was once owned by the German Jewish collector Paul Leffmann, who sold it in Italy in 1938 for $13,200, allegedly far below market value, as he and his wife Alice sought to flee a fast-Nazifying Italy, having already escaped Germany. The painting later made its way to New York’s Knoedler Gallery, where it was bought in 1941 for $22,500 by the American collector Thelma Chrysler Foy, who gave it to the Met in 1952. The case is significant because of the potential impact on claimants who seek the restitution of works sold by Jewish families to raise cash to fund their escape from the Nazis.
In dismissing the lawsuit in February, US District Court Judge Loretta Preska said the estate had not met the legal test for duress under the law of either Italy or New York. While acknowledging a general “economic pressure during the undeniably horrific circumstances of the Nazi and Fascist regimes,” the judge said, the Leffmanns had time to review and negotiate other offers before agreeing to the $13,200, and had other—albeit vastly reduced—assets.
On appeal, the estate says the situation faced in 1938 by the fleeing Leffmanns in Florence, where Adolf Hitler was parading through the neighbourhood, was duress. “You either sell or face an unspeakable fate,” the estate says in its filing, calling the sale a “desperate act of survival during the most horrific of circumstances.” The estate adds that the lower court’s decision is inconsistent with US policy as shown by the recently passed Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, which extends the time limit for claims on Nazi-era art cases, and which the court did not address. "As the appellate brief makes clear, the HEAR Act is a clear statement of US policy favouring the restitution of art lost as a result of persecution by the Nazis and its allies," says the estate's lawyer Ross Hirsch of Herrick, Feinstein. "As a technical legal matter, the HEAR Act is also relevant to, and dismissive of, the Museum’s statute of limitation and laches defenses. However, the district court did not reach those defenses in its decision."
The Met argues that the estate is asking the court to expand the law of duress, which would upset the rights of those who have bought art in good faith. The Leffmanns sold the painting on the open market in 1938 and brought no claim for it when they sought to recover other lost assets after the war, the museum says, adding that it has handled the claim with “appropriate sensitivity to the historical circumstances” and denied it only after voluminous research. “The Museum respectfully stands by its conclusion that it is the rightful owner of this painting, which was never in the hands of the Nazis and never sold or transferred in any unlawful way,” David Bowker, an attorney for the Met, says.
The case has attracted the attention of groups and individuals who have filed amicus briefs in support of the Leffmann estate, including the Holocaust Era Restitution Project, B’nai B’rith International, the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Human Rights and others. The court should take into account that the Nazis wove an “all-encompassing web” to extract all Jewish assets for the Reich, the Wiesenthal Center says, adding that sales under those circumstances should not be viewed as ordinary commercial transactions.
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.