20 years ago, the UN Durban Conference aimed to combat racism. It devolved into a ‘festival of hate’ against Jews.
B'nai B'rith International's Honorary President Richard D. Heideman and Director of Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn spoke to JTA about their experiences at the 2001 U.N. Durban conference that devolved into anti-Israel hatred.
Some of the Jewish organizational officials flying into the coastal city of Durban, South Africa, on the last week of August 2001 were excited. They believed the U.N.’s anti-racism conference there would be an opportunity to exchange notes on a cause that the Jewish world had worked on for decades.
Others, steeped in how the United Nations and its affiliates functioned, were wary of some of the players, who were known for tirelessly steering every international conference to complaints about Israel. Still others who had been tracking preparations for the gathering knew that Iran, Israel’s implacable enemy, was planning to take over the proceedings.
But no one was prepared for what it became — a carnival of antisemitic expression that drove Jewish participants to tears each night and had them fearing for their physical safety.
“It was worse than I had imagined,” recalled Irwin Cotler, a longtime Jewish human rights lawyer in Canada who would go on to be his nation’s justice minister. “Because it was a festival of hate.”
As is conventional at U.N. forums, the governmental conference, which ran Sept. 2-9, was preceded by the nongovernmental organization conference Aug. 27-Sept. 2.
Both would be overshadowed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But the NGO conference, say the Jewish participants who attended, was a template for the next 20 years of anti-Israel rhetoric, codifying the argument now increasingly prevalent on the left that Israel is an apartheid state deserving of isolation. It was also an eye opener for many in terms of how criticism of Israel, however legitimate, can be co-opted by an antisemitic agenda.
The failure of the human rights organizations present to come to the defense of the Jewish participants, who walked out to jeers and threats, created a rift that persists until today. Over a dozen countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, are boycotting this year’s Durban conference over its antisemitic history.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency spoke to nine Jewish officials who were at the 2001 conference, including Cotler, who was then a member of the Canadian parliament.
The others are:
— Stacy Burdett, then the associate government relations director at the Anti-Defamation League;
— Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center;
— Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights;
— Richard Heideman, then the president of B’nai B’rith International;
— Phyllis Heideman, his wife, who had attended a number of U.N. conferences as a delegate of B’nai B’rith;
— David Killion, then the chief of staff to Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, who headed the U.S. delegation to the governmental conference;
— Eduardo Kohn, the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American Affairs;
— A top Jewish organizational official at the time who is now in a job where she is not permitted to speak on the record.
Heading into the conference: “There was a little bit of naivete going into it.”
Cotler: “In 1997, when it was first announced that there was going to be a world conference against racism in South Africa in 2001, I greeted it with anticipation, if not excitement, because this was going to be the first world conference against racism in the 21st century, and I felt that it would give underrepresented groups a voice and a presence. Second, it was going to be the first international human rights conference of the 21st century. Human rights had emerged as a new secular religion of our times, and this conference would be as timely as it would be significant. And third thing is, it was taking place in Durban, South Africa. I not only had a longtime involvement in the anti-apartheid movement but actually had been arrested.” [Cotler was arrested in apartheid South Africa in 1981 for delivering a lecture at a university in which he said that Nelson Mandela had as much right to freedom as Natan Sharansky, then a prisoner in the Soviet Union whom Cotler represented as a human rights lawyer. He went on to lead anti-apartheid advocacy in Canada.]
Burdett: “I was born in 1964, so for Americans of my age, it was like the antisemitism was over, right? So there was this aspect of, in preparing for Durban, my focus was trying to make sure ADL got a good spot for doing events on our anti-racism trainings. So there was a little bit of naivete going into it.”
Richard Heideman: “In 1985, there was a U.N. conference to assess and appraise the status of women that was held in Nairobi, Kenya. Phyllis was designated as a delegate by B’nai B’rith International, which is the oldest Jewish organization with standing at the U.N. When we arrived in Nairobi we found at the NGO forum and at the U.N. conference itself terrible hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people.”
The 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism permeated the Nairobi conference. In 1991, years of Jewish organizational advocacy and U.S. diplomacy brought about the revocation of the resolution, fueling hope that Israel would not be a focus at Durban.
Gaer: “We had a secretary-general who, for the first time in the history of the U.N., actually used the word ‘Holocaust,’ who was married to the niece of one of the great Holocaust-era heroes. [Kofi Annan, who was instrumental in the establishment of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was married to Nane Lagergren, whose uncle was Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat whose actions saved thousands of Hungarian Jews.] And we had expectations that a world conference on racism could not only address the scourge of racism, which we have seen in such ugly ways in the former Yugoslavia, the Bosnia conflict and in Rwanda, but that could also address race issues in individual countries. Those of us who were engaged in Jewish organizations also felt this was an opportunity in which we could talk about combating antisemitism as one of a whole variety of forms of intolerance and racial discrimination and racism that needed to be eradicated.”
Cooper: “The truth is that when we went, we’d already seen storm clouds [after Iran maneuvered to set the agenda at a preparatory meeting in February], although no one had any clue about how bad it would be on the ground, how terrible it would be on the ground.”
Iran and a striking image set the stage
In retrospect, there were signs that there were actors intent on making Israel a focus of the conference. The main conference was preceded in late 2000 and early 2001 by regional conferences. The final regional conference, for Asian countries, took place in Tehran in February 2001. Iran refused to allow Israelis and Jewish organizations to attend.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, another Jewish organization accredited at the United Nations, asked the U.N. human rights commissioner — Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who was organizing the conference — to move the venue to another Asian country. Robinson declined but pledged that she would make the Iranians allow Jewish and Israeli representatives to attend.
Cooper: “Mary Robinson promised us up the wazoo, ‘You guys have every right to attend the meeting in Tehran.’ But we didn’t get the right to go until after the last planes from Paris and New York left for Tehran so that it would be impossible for us to reach there. And that’s where a lot of the stuff was cooked.”
Whereas Jewish and Israeli delegates could influence summary statements at regional preparatory conferences in Africa, Latin America and Europe, Iran’s maneuver meant that the Asian summary document amounted to an indictment of Israel. It accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” of implementing “a new kind of Apartheid” and “a crime against humanity,” and said Zionism was “based on race superiority.” Much of the Iran-influenced document became a template for the NGO declaration at the Durban conference.
Cotler: “There was a six-point indictment of Israel at the regional conference in Tehran, one of the most scurrilous indictments of Israel since the end of the Second World War.”
The Second Intifada had been underway for almost a year by the time the conference started, and one of its most striking images, caught on video, persisted: The Sept. 30, 2000 killing of Muhammad al-Durrah, a 12-year-old Palestinian caught in the crossfire during a battle between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Images of al-Durrah proliferated at the conference, including on T-shirts. “Killed on September 30 2000, for being Palestinian,” a T-shirt said on one side. On the other side it read “Occupation = Colonialism = Racism. End Israeli apartheid.”
Burdett: “The Palestinians really had an edge here because they have the popular vote. There were pictures of Muhammad al-Durrah everywhere. They had the sympathy vote.”
Richard Heideman: “What we faced was phenomenal in terms of the visible expression of hatred, not just placards but photographs, and talking about Jews and Israelis as murderers.”
Burdett: “There was an NGO kind of infrastructure managing this [on the South African end], a South African NGO that received large grants from the U.N. [SANGOCO, a coalition of South African NGOs]. And even before Durban started they did a mission for NGOs for the West Bank, so there was a lot of writing on the wall.”
“I saw grown men crying, weeping.”
Not long after they landed, the conference-goers noticed a ubiquitous flyer with a picture of Adolf Hitler. “WHAT IF I HAD WON?’ it asked. “The good things: There would be no Israel and no Palestinian’s [sic] bloodshed. The bad things: I wouldn’t have allowed the making of the new Beetle. THE REST IS YOUR GUESS.”
The Arab Lawyers Union also distributed pamphlets filled with caricatures of hook-nosed Jews depicted as Nazis spearing Palestinian children, dripping blood from their fangs, with missiles bulging from their eyes or with pots of money nearby. Copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a notorious antisemitic text, were available. Calls to the organizers to remove the materials went unheeded.
The confrontational imagery was reflected in personal encounters. Protesters surrounded Jewish students who set up a stand near the press tent and screamed at them.
Kohn: “We couldn’t speak out in the meetings because in the moment we started speaking — any Jewish delegation — the shouts of ‘You kill the Palestinians, you’re like the Nazis you’re a racist, apartheid’ and whatever — it made us impossible to speak out.”
Cooper: “The Lawyers Guild from Egypt did political cartoons that literally would have belonged in Der Sturmer. Our attempts to get them removed were basically laughed at. So we called a press conference. At that press conference, before we started, a phalanx of Iranian women in black rush the press conference and try to push over the shtender [podium] and try to kill the press conference. They were eventually physically removed. So the physical intimidation was there.”
Kohn: “There was a Uruguayan minister [Education Minister Antonio Mercader] who came up to me and said it was risky, we need protection. I mean it was unbelievable. We were at a U.N. conference.”
On Friday, Aug. 31, the Jewish delegation learned that South African unions were staging a massive pro-Palestinian demonstration at the conference grounds, the Kingsmead Cricket Stadium. Security officials warned Jewish participants to stay away.
Cooper: “I was approached by the chief of police of Durban and told the following: ‘Rabbi, please, I’m asking you, do not try to go from here to the Jewish community center today.’ ‘Why not? It’s like 2 1/2 blocks away.’ He said, ‘We cannot guarantee your safety.’ And just then when we looked out — we went up higher [in the stadium] — 20,000 people have been brought in by train by the trade unions in order to do Israel apartheid protests, in which the famous picture of the banner ‘Hitler was right’ was hoisted. They were giving out free copies of the ‘Protocols of Zion.’”
Burdett: “We had put out an SMS to everyone’s cellphone, ‘Do not go near that demonstration’ because our information is that it’s going to be heavily laced with and motivated by antisemitism and that we should not be visible. They were carrying signs and wearing T-shirts that said ‘Apartheid Israel.’ Someone had gone to the townships and just distributed T-shirts to people who just could use a shirt to wear. And so that street demonstration was just filled with people wearing freshly minted anti-Israel T-shirts. And so the effort to make Israel such a prominent issue at this conference was very organized.”
Cooper: “The one lifeline for the Jewish groups was the Jewish community center of Durban. That was the place we came at night to lick our wounds, where I saw grown men crying, weeping. It was that bad.”
On the evening of Saturday, Sept. 1, the conference-goers convened to work out the final text of the NGO declaration. It was a chaotic scene, but the steering committee achieved a modicum of order by allowing each group to propose an amendment that defined the discrimination they suffer. That prompted the Jewish delegation to propose an amendment that pushed back against the conference’s anti-Zionism and referenced the spike in worldwide antisemitism after the start of the Second Intifada.
It said: “We are concerned with the prevalence of anti-Zionism and attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel through wildly inaccurate charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and apartheid, as a virulent contemporary form of antisemitism, leading to the firebombing of synagogues, armed assaults against Jews, incitement to killing and the murder of innocent Jews for their support for the existence of the State of Israel, the assertion of the right to self-determination of the Jewish people and the attempts through the State of Israel to preserve their cultural and religious identity.”
The conference overwhelmingly rejected the amendment, with only delegations from Central Europe and the Roma joining the Jewish delegation in favoring its inclusion. That was a breaking point. The entire Jewish delegation rose to leave, and the crowd erupted in shouts and threats.
Richard Heideman: “We were walking out in a procession with people jeering us on the sides.”
Kohn: “While we were walking we received very, very, very rude insults, antisemitic insults and the threats of being attacked, I mean attacked physically, attacks that were averted by the guards of the conference, I mean, if we didn’t have the protection of the guards …”
Read the full story in JTA.
The Hebrew Watchman (Jewish Scene Magazine) included letters from both B'nai B'rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and Memphis-area B’nai B’rith leader Harold I. Steinberg to Germantown Municipal School District superintendent Dr. Jason Manuel in response to a district administrator comparing vaccine papers to yellow stars.
Several prominent Jewish community leaders, rabbis, organizations and Congressman Steve Cohen have responded to a Facebook post by an administrator in the Germantown Municipal School District comparing vaccine papers to yellow stars.
Within days, Memphis-area news outlets aired and published information concerning the comments by the administrator, Janna Matykiewicz, at Houston High School. The post, which has since been taken off Facebook, read “What’s the difference between vaccine papers and a yellow star? 82 years.”
Rabbi Jeremy Simons of Temple Is- rael commented to NBC Action News 5 that “to know this came from an ed- ucator... it was shocking and deeply distressing.”
Rabbi Sarit Horwitz of Beth Sholom spoke with ABC Local 24 saying “vac- cines are about giving life and uphold- ing life for everyone, for ourselves, for our families, for our larger community whereas the mass genocide of the Jew- ish people was about killing people.”
Letters were also sent to Dr. Jason Manuel, superintendent Germantown Municipal School District concerning her remarks. A student started a petition to fire the administrator at change.org, which at the time of this article had re- ceived 2,417 signatures.
Read more in the Hebrew Watchman.
Charles O. Kaufman, president B’nai B’rith International and local B’nai B’rith member Harold I. Steinberg sent the following letters to Dr. Manuel.
Letter from B'nai B'rith International President Charles O. Kaufman to Dr. Jason Manuel, superintendent Germantown Municipal School District:
Dear Dr. Manuel,
There is no confusion surrounding the message behind Janna Matykiewicz’s Facebook post: “What’s the difference between vaccine papers and a yellow star? 82 years.”
By invoking the yellow star used by Nazis to segregate and identify Jews as a population to be demonized, your colleague has entered something more than simply a poor use of a metaphor from history. Imagine the message that already is filtering through the Germantown school community, not just Houston High School.
This is an administrator who has a problem relating events in history to the management of today’s Covid-19 pan- demic, which has exploded into a most serious health concern with the current wave of variants. It is a matter of ignorance, pure and simple, a lack of sen- sitivity and perhaps latent hatred. This was no slip of the tongue or an example taken out of context.
A severe reprimand, a suspension or dismissal is certainly in order. In the meantime, it is important for Ms. Matykiewicz, faculty and students to understand why such parallels are so abhor- rent, and I trust you will wisely guide your colleagues to make this circumstance a teaching opportunity.
Frankly, Jews around the world have enough problems with anti-Semites casually accusing Jews and Israel of acting like “Nazis” or practicing “Apartheid.” And now the unmistakable 82-year time frame of wearing yellow stars. These are false narratives, if not blood libels, of modern times.
Today’s education system has many successes, to be sure, but this incident is proof that education is sliding into a very deep hole of learning deficits.
B’nai B’rith has worked in the Memphis area and around the world to serve the good of the community and stamp out anti-Semitism and we stand ready to assist you in solving this problem.
President, B’nai B’rith International
Letter from Memphis-area B’nai B’rith leader Harold I. Steinberg to Dr. Jason Manuel, superintendent Germantown Municipal School District:
Dear Dr. Manuel,
As a member of the Sam Schloss Lodge of B’nai B’rith, founded in Memphis in 1854 (yes, in 1854), I am proud of its long record of service. As an example, following the assassination of President Lincoln, the entire lodge marched in a local memorial procession. In addition, B’nai B’rith has an unmatched record of support to the United States and members of the military service. President Truman sent a letter to B’nai B’rith thanking the organization for its “amazing amount of national service.” There are many other examples I could cite.
I am also a member of the Germantown Financial Advisory Commission. I have long been proud of the commission’s steadfast support for quality education in our city and the Germantown Municipal School District. But the recent news report about Janna Matykiewicz’s post on Facebook tells me that there is more work to do.
Simply stated, Ms. Matykiewicz must be disciplined, suspended or terminated. GMSD cannot allow such remarks to go unanswered.
Students at Houston High School should benefit from administrators who clearly understand that America is stronger for its diversity. I ask that you ensure this message is received by students, faculty and staff, not only at Houston High School, but throughout the entire GMSD.
I stand ready to assist you in any way.
Harold I. Steinberg
The Jerusalem Post quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin concerning the fall of Afghanistan and the strategic, regional uncertainty that it has unleashed – particularly with regard to Iran, the Palestinians and the future of the Abraham Accords.
WASHINGTON — US Jewish organizations were following closely as the drama was unfolding. Even before Thursday’s terror attack, it was already clear that the Afghanistan withdrawal will overshadow the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. But the deadly attack near the Kabul airport made it clear that the administration’s attention is currently elsewhere, as the President and his close staff monitored the developments from the situation room, postponing the meeting to a later timing.
William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, told The Jerusalem Post that “as we watch the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the alliance and partnership between the United States and the State of Israel is more critical than ever.”
Speaking about the meeting, Daroff said that he expected the two new administrations “to make significant progress on issues of mutual and fundamental importance to all Americans and Israelis during Prime Minister Bennett’s first US trip to Washington since assuming office — the first opportunity for the two leaders to meet face-to-face during their many years in public service.”
“These priorities include sharing knowledge and resources to counter the COVID-19 virus and its variants, how best to deter Iranian aggression and hold its nuclear program accountable and in check, and defending and promoting Israel’s security, peace, and stability,” he said.
Dan Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, told the Post that with the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and all of the strategic uncertainty that it has unleashed, “events would hopefully dictate a further closing of the ranks between Washington and Jerusalem on Iran and the Palestinian issue.”
“This is clearly no time for risk-taking with Iran, including sanctions relief, especially given the election of Ebrahim Raisi, Tehran’s ratcheting up enrichment and other aspects of its nuclear program, and its malign behavior throughout the region,” said Mariaschin.
“With regard to the Palestinian issue, the PA’s pay-for-slay program and its incessant efforts at the UN and elsewhere to demonize Israel suggests more business-as-usual in Ramallah,” he continued. “There should be no rush to proffer additional incentives to the PA —such as re-opening of the PLO office in Washington and certainly not re-opening of the consulate in Jerusalem — in the face of its zero-sum recalcitrance.”
“Finally, we hope that the success of the Abraham Accords will move the administration to proactively seek out, together with Israel, new partners for peace and cooperation in the region, to join those already committed to this camp,” Mariaschin said.
Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) CEO Halie Soifer released a statement on Thursday morning, saying that the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett is the first meeting between a new US president and new Israeli Prime Minister in more than a decade. “It ushers in a new chapter for the United States and Israel, and reaffirms the strength of our historic and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship,” she said.
“President Biden entered office with a longer and stronger record of support for Israel than any of his predecessors, and has been steadfast in his support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense,” she said.
She went on to say that The United States and Israel “share a common goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. With the future of a renewed Iran nuclear agreement remaining, at best, uncertain, we welcome close collaboration between the US and Israel in ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Jeremy Ben Ami, President of the progressive group, J Street, said in a statement on Thursday that “while the US builds common ground with the new Israeli government in a number of areas, we also must make clear that the “status quo” is too dangerous to accept.”
“J Street is urging President Biden to make clear in [the] meeting that a strong, enduring, bipartisan US-Israel relationship demands fidelity to our shared values of democracy, peace and respect for human rights,” said Ben Ami. “That means pushing for an end to harmful settlement expansion; an end to discriminatory evictions in East Jerusalem and demolitions in the West Bank; an end to the policy of perpetual occupation; an end to the twin erosion of Israeli democracy and Palestinian hopes for self-determination,” he said in a statement.
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of the upcoming first in-person meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and what Jewish leaders hope will come from the meeting.
(August 24, 2021 / JNS) The fallout from U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan has taken over news headlines and will likely overshadow the upcoming first in-person meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House on Thursday, even geared as it is with the aim of solidifying and strengthening ties between the allies, and bolstering regional security.
“The history is that strong relationships between the government of Israel and the government of the United States have transcended what party is in power, what government is in power from either country,” said Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO for the Jewish Federations of North America. “But the fact is, when there are new leaders, you have to renew those ties—you have to build the relationship.”
While other members of the Israeli government have in recent months been meeting with their American counterparts, Bennett will be the first new Israeli prime minister in more than a decade, and unlike his predecessor, is not acquainted with Biden. Fingerhut emphasized the relationship between both administrations to show continuity.
“From the perspective of Jewish Federations of North America, the most important thing that we want to see is the building of the relationship between the prime minister and the president, and the fact that this is happening despite COVID and despite the challenges that Israel faces, the challenges that the United States faces in the United States and elsewhere, I think is very significant, and it transcends any specific issue we might wish to raise,” he said.
Jewish organizational leaders in the United States largely agree on the topics the two leaders are expected to discuss, with the international threat of a nuclear and belligerent Iran heading the list of priorities.
“The most important thing that can come out of this is a good rapport between the prime minister and the president, [so] they can start to build a very productive working relationship,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center. “I would say what’s good for the atmosphere in the American-Jewish community is for there to be a good, friendly, productive relationship between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel because if there’s friction, then that creates tension with the community as well.”
‘An opportunity to close any gaps’
Both administrations have departed from the policies of their predecessors to varying degrees and have a number of divergent opinions with each other. Biden has notably sought to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump left in 2018, as well as restore aid and ties with the Palestinians, which Trump also severed. While Bennett, a right-winger, likely shares his predecessor’s views on Iran and the Palestinians, he may lack the clout to sway Biden on the issues.
Dan Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, hopes that the conversation could move the two nations closer to an agreement on certain issues.
“I think, hopefully, in light of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the election before that of Ebrahim Raisi as president of Iran, that there would be an opportunity to perhaps close any gaps that might have existed before between the two governments on the Iran issue,” he said. “Israel, of course, has all along expressed its justified opposition to any deal with the Iranians that would create some kind of daylight for them to continue in some way—whether it’s sooner or later—their nuclear program. And now, impacted by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, all of this should be put on pause because we really have to assess what this means for the Iranians in terms of the opportunity for additional instability to be fomented throughout the region.”
Fingerhut said that Bennett should deliver the message that the threats of instability and radicalism that threaten Israel are the same as those that threaten the United States—the terroristic threat that reached American shores almost 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, is also related to the recent war between Israel and Hamas.
The organizational leaders were concerned about the Biden administration’s willingness to enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—despite receiving any concessions from Iran.
“I hope what comes out of it is the sanctions that are still in place now will remain in place, and I hope [Bennett] puts pressure on Biden to not make a deal, at minimum, unless America can visit any military facility at will,” said Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
“Right now, it has to give a notice of 28 days. It’s ridiculous. They clear everything out,” he said. “So the three things he’s got to do is to say if you make a deal, you’ve got to have a much longer sunset period—20 or 30 years. Two, you have got to keep the sanctions in place until we see some sort of transformation of the regime towards a civilized society. And three, any new deal has to allow them to visit military facilities at will, not give them a 28-day notice.”
‘The worst appeasement message imaginable’
Organizational leaders also hope that the two sides agree not to let the United States dictate the timetable for Israeli-Palestinian peace, especially while Palestinian officials refuse to faithfully negotiate.
“The P.A. [Palestinian Authority] has not moved at all on pay-for-slay; funds are being given to UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees] … really with nothing substantial in terms of reforms, in terms of commitments to change school curricula. And now, there’s also the issue where the administration would like to reopen the consulate in eastern Jerusalem,” said Mariaschin. “And if one gives away all of your leverage, without receiving anything in return, then what should we expect?”
Mariaschin said that he hopes Israel’s concerns will be factored into American policymaking.
“There should really be no rush to conclude any kind of hasty return either to the table or to try to move on some kind of an arrangement without ascertaining that there would be something in return,” he said, adding that since the Abraham Accords signed between Israel and neighboring Arab nations a year ago, there have been encouraging signs for peace and stability in the region, despite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not being resolved.
The consulate is a critical issue for Klein, who is opposed to its reopening, especially in Jerusalem.
“Israel is going to try to make it clear that they can’t open a consulate in Israel’s capital because this is a radical terrorist regime that has refused to negotiate for 12 years; pays Arabs to murder Jews and Americans; names schools, streets and sports teams after terrorists; and promotes hatred and violence against Jews in every aspect of their culture,” he said. “This would be the worst appeasement message imaginable—that despite their outrageous behavior, they’re being allowed to open up a consulate in Israel’s capital. This would undermine the thesis that this is Israel’s capital and send a message to them that they can get away with acting horribly and they still get rewarded.”
So far, it remains unclear if organizational leaders will meet with Bennett while he is in the United States, with COVID-19 creating the need to limit contact, and none of the leaders JNS spoke with scheduled to meet with the prime minister.
Another topic of conversation, of course, would be the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in America and throughout the world, especially in the wake of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in May.
Said Fingerhut: “I know that Prime Minister Bennett—because Jewish Federation leadership was with him just days before he became prime minister—cares deeply about the rise of anti-Semitism around the world. That he sees his role as prime minister as caring for the Jewish people around the world and I hope and expect that will be also a topic of conversation between them.”
The Algemeiner noted our statement, along with other world Jewish groups, decrying the desecration of the Central Synagogue in Sofia, Bulgaria, which was tagged with anti-Semitic and white supremacist graffiti.
World Jewish groups decried antisemitic and white supremacist symbols found daubed on the historic Central Synagogue in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, the largest synagogue on the Balkan peninsula.
On Sunday, Bulgaria’s Central Israelite Religious Council publicized photographs of the graffiti, which included a swastika and the number “1488,” a neo-Nazi shorthand.
“We strongly condemn this action and call on the authorities to find the perpetrators as soon as possible and to impose the most severe sanctions,” the Council said in a Facebook post.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the symbol 1488 — sometimes written as 14/88 or 8814 — refers to a 14-word racist maxim and “Heil Hitler,” H being the 8th letter of the alphabet. It can be seen in email addresses, screen names, and even the pricing of racist merchandise, the ADL says.
On Monday, the group condemned the vandalism in Sofia, joining a number of global Jewish organizations.
“We are disgusted by the desecration of the Central Synagogue in Sofia with a white supremacist symbol ‘1488’ and a swastika,” tweeted the European Jewish Congress. “We stand in solidarity with the Bulgarian Jewish community and call on authorities to speedily bring the perpetrators to justice.”
B’nai Brith International called it a “shameful desecration.”
“We stand with the local Jewish community and urge authorities to intensify efforts to secure Jewish institutions,” the group said.
B'nai B'rith International has received coverage for a Rescuers Citation given to Jewish resistance fighter Henriëtte Pimentel, who saved 600 children in Amsterdam from Nazi death camps. She was honored at the Verzets Resistance Museum 78 years after her death.
The B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) created the Jewish Rescuer Citation in 2011 to honor and pay respect Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
See how media outlets covered the presentation:
The Times of Israel (blog) included B'nai B'rith International's Rescuers Citation, which honors Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust, in its coverage of a new memorial sculpture in Safed.
An interpretive memorial sculpture, like none that has ever existed in Jewish history or anywhere in the world, has been placed in Safed. It is titled the “Hands of Choice.”
Conceived and funded by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, in cooperation with the City of Safed and Ascent of Safed, the “Hands” is the artistic creation of noted Jerusalem sculptor Sam Philipe.
The design is simple, two hands cradling a Star of David. On each faceted side of the Star are Jerusalem stone plates carved with ~ four hundred names in Hebrew and English of Jews who saved Jews.
The representative names are drawn from the 3,500 years of Jewish historical experience. There are thousands upon thousands more, most of whom sleep in the dark, dark forgotten mist of Jewish memory. They are not the names of those who risked their lives as honorably expected in the front lines of battle or in the fight for health and societal order. They are the names of those who chose to do what they did not have to.
Contrary to popular thought, Jews are not required to risk their lives to save their fellow Jews. Yet, there were Jews, frequently at risk to their own lives, their family’s lives, their reputations, their fortunes, who took the step into the terrifying moral abyss of their times to save Jewish lives.
Even during the most seemingly impotent time of recent Jewish history, the Holocaust, when Jewish life was worth less than a dog’s whimper, Jews risked all to save Jews.
Yad Vashem, lightly and without depth, does recognize Jews saved Jews during the Holocaust. They argue Jews are obligated to save Jews.
Halacha does not obligate Jews to risk their lives to save other Jews.
There is no permanent memorial or recognition program, similar to the incredible and very just, Righteous Among the Nations programs for Jews at Yad Vashem. There is no grove of trees, no walkway, no permanent mandate to recognize and honor the memory of Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. It was never part of their original mandate. It is not part of their mandate today.
Famed Holocaust historian Nechama Tec self-reflectively said, “Why had I overlooked the rescue of Jews by Jews? Did I think that self-preservation, as a basic drive, would take precedence over everything else? Historically, Jews have been viewed as victims, and not as rescuers, not as heroes. Had I unconsciously assimilated these perceptions? Had I assumed that victim and rescuer were incompatible roles?”
More than twenty years ago, a small group of survivors, who were saved by Jews, who were themselves within the Lion’s mouth of Nazi death, organized and approached Yad Vashem. They asked Yad Vashem to include Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust in their Memorialization efforts.
Though tenaciously led by Haim Roet, himself a child survivor saved by Jews, the committees’ efforts were rebuffed.
Refusing to deny honored memory to Jews who saved Jews, they linked together with B’nai Brith. Annually, they have a commemorative ceremony at the Scroll of Fire in the Martyrs Forest outside of Jerusalem. They remember and honor newly discovered and carefully vetted Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. It is an extraordinary ceremony of dignity and long overdue Kavod.
Today, the recognition of their heroism is frequently given in lieu to the children and more frequently to the grandchildren or even distant family as the heroes have passed into the night.
The Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation has also interacted with Yad Vashem’s, at times Byzantine, process to garner recognition for a candidate for the Righteous Among the Nations Program. The candidate proffered by JASHP, recognized by the Anne Frank International Human Rights Memorial in Idaho, the GAIWO International Garden of the Righteous in Milan, and a number of smaller Holocaust sites, could not make headway with Yad Vashem.
The philosophic basis of Israel’s being is founded on the principle of Jews saving and helping their fellow Jews. Jews would no longer wait for others to save them. Jews would act to save themselves.
Where is the Memorial to Jonas Eckstein from Bratislava, who saved nearly 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust, or to Dr. Gisella Perl who saved hundreds of Jewish women from inside Auschwitz? Where is the Memorial to the Jews who died at the fiery stake for the crime of sheltering their fellow Jews from the Inquisition? Where is the Memorial to the Jews who faced the religious fanatics of Medieval pogroms to save Jews? Where is the Memorial to the Jews from Ethiopia who risked their lives helping their fellow Jews escape, or the Jews from India, or the Jews from the Sephardi/Mizrahi world? Where is the Memorial to the Jews of Alexandria nearly 2,000 years ago who voluntarily sacrificed themselves to save their fellow Jews?
There is no memorial to them.
JASHP recognized the need, the City and Community of Safed, of mystical and human memory agreed, and the first-ever Memorial was created and placed.
The Hands of Choice Memorial is not a one-off effort. It is not a memorial designed to be done and walked away from as a curious artifact. The Hands of Choice is the initial proposed effort of annual commemoration and addition… if it can be organized. There are far too many names and stories that are unknown, should be known, must be known.
Shaping the future is by remembering the past. Teaching the children about what was, will make what will be. Perhaps it is time for Jewish guilt education to reduce its focus on saving the world and increase its focus on saving Jews.
The night before he died, Hans Herzl, Theodor Herzl’s son, wrote, “In the end, a Jew is a Jew, is a Jew.”
The Hands of Choice Memorial is located on Jerusalem Street in Safed. The open hands cupping the Star of David with the hundreds of forgotten names of Jews who saved Jews faces Mt. Meron.
Coverage of B'nai B'rith Co-Sponsoring New Initiative Marking Routes Taken by Jews Fleeing 15th Century Persecution
B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider is co-sponsoring an initiative by Mayor Antonio Pita of the town of Castelo de Vide in eastern Portugal that will mark the paths taken by Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and the Portuguese Inquisition in 1496. Schneider attended and addressed a formal gathering in Castelo de Vide where the initiative was announced.
See how the media covered the news and the event:
Portuguese Town to Sponsor Country-Wide Initiative Marking Routes Taken by Jews Fleeing 15th Century Persecution
Castelo de Vide City Council – YouTube (Portuguese)
Portugal em Direto - Encontro Rede de Judiarias de Portugal e Espanha
Israel Hayom (English):
Portuguese City Marking Routes Taken by Jews Fleeing Inquisition
Israel Hayom (Hebrew):
First-of-its-Kind Initiative in Portugal: Restoration of the "Spanish Deportees"
The Jerusalem Post – Grapevine Column (English)
Grapevine August 9, 2021: A Time to Remember
Grapevine columnist Greer Fay Cashman notes that both Portugal and Spain have made great strides in trying to make amends for the expulsion of Jews from their respective countries more than 500 years ago. Aside from entering into diplomatic relations with Israel, restoring citizenship to people who can prove direct descent from those who were expelled, acknowledging ancient antisemitism, permitting the revival of Jewish communities, and more, the town of Castelo de Vide in western Portugal will sponsor an initiative tracing the paths taken by Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition in 1492 and the Portuguese Inquisition of 1496. An announcement to this effect was made last week by Castelo de Vide Mayor Antonio Pita, who also serves as vice president of the Jewish Cities Network in Portugal.
The multiyear project, which was jointly initiated with Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, will be coordinated by Walter Wasercier, vice president of the Hispanic-Israeli Chamber of Commerce and former El Al director in Spain and Portugal.
Supporters of the project include outgoing Ambassador to Portugal Raphael Gamzou; Assumpcio Hosta Rebes, secretary-general of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage; Marta Puig Qixal, managing director of Caminos de Sefarad; and officials of the local and regional governments, among them Caceres and Tui in Spain and Braganza and Porto Alegre in Portugal.
Remnants of Castelo de Vide’s Jewish history are carefully maintained by the municipality, including a synagogue and Jewish quarter, and the town will shortly inaugurate the first museum in the world dedicated to the memory of the Inquisition that led to the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula and to untold suffering of Jews who clandestinely continued to cling to their religious beliefs and practices (“conversos”).
As envisioned by its initiators, the project – titled El Kamino De Sefarad al muevo mundo (The Sepharad Route to the New World) – will eventually cover thousands of kilometers from areas of major Jewish population in Spain in the Middle Ages, over the border into Portugal, concluding in Lisbon and Porto, where Jews were forcibly converted or departed for other destinations in North Africa, Holland, the Land of Israel and the New World. The initiative was inspired by the Kamino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
Schneider envisioned that many Israeli and Jewish organizations would become party to the effort, and that the marked routes will be an attraction for Jewish visitors, among others.
Puig said that besides the economic development that all the participants hope the project will bring, it also will make an important institutional contribution by better transmitting Jewish history in the Iberian Peninsula.
Schneider noted that B’nai B’rith has a long history of commemorating the Inquisition. Among other things, its lodge in Jerusalem established the first sustained library in Israel in 1892, naming it for Rabbi Don Isaac Abravanel, the leader of the Jewish community in Spain at the time of the Inquisition, who led his followers into exile. This library formed the foundation of the National Library of Israel.
Meeting Between the Jewish Networks of Spain and Portugal
Red de Juderías
Meeting between the Jewish Networks of Spain and Portugal
Tui Participated in the Meeting Between the Jewish Networks of Spain and Portugal
The Algemeiner, Israel Hayom and the European Jewish Press noted our statement applauding the U.S. administration's nominee for U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, in its coverage of the nomination.
The Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt will be nominated as the Biden administration’s antisemitism envoy, the White House said Friday, in a choice praised by American Jewish groups.
A professor of Jewish history at Emory University in Atlanta, Lipstadt was the founding director of its Institute for Jewish Studies, and has penned works on the American press during the Holocaust, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and her own successful court battle against British Holocaust denier David Irving.
For the first time, the State Department role of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism will hold the rank of ambassador, thus requiring Senate confirmation, thanks to bipartisan legislation passed in January.
“Having spent her career fighting antisemitism and Holocaust denial, Deborah Lipstadt will ensure the US remains a leader in combating antisemitism globally,” commented US Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV). “Her nomination has my full support, and I look forward to working alongside her in our shared mission of protecting Jewish communities and combating antisemitism across the globe.”
Leading US Jewish organizations also applauded the pick, with B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin calling her “eminently qualified” for the job.
“B’nai B’rith looks forward to working with Lipstadt as antisemitism has spiked exponentially in the United States and around the world, manifesting itself in many forms and variants, oftentimes fueled by social media,” they said in a statement. “It is vitally important that the US government, through the person of the special envoy, continue to assume a leadership position in the battle against this alarmingly growing challenge.”
Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s Executive Director for Public Policy, noted that the announcement “comes at a time we are witnessing a terrible surge in attacks and threats committed against the global Jewish community,” including violent assaults on individuals.
“While it’s unfortunate we need to have such a position at the State Department, Prof. Lipstadt is certainly the best person to fill this job,” he said.
American Jewish Committee (AJC) head David Harris called Liptstadt “one of this country’s, indeed the world’s, foremost experts on modern antisemitism, its constant morphing and multiple sources, and the current challenges to confronting it.”
Lipstadt would succeed former Los Angeles prosecutor Elan Carr, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in 2019.
She serves on the boards of the Jewish Forward Advisory Committee and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and has previously held several roles at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She is also a former member of the US Department of State’s Advisory Committee on Religious Persecution Abroad and was a Board Member of Hillel International.
The White House also announced on Friday its intended nominations for three other religious affairs roles, including Rashad Hussain as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a choice praised by AJC for his “extensive engagement with the Muslim world” and his efforts to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum will be tapped as Commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Khizr Khan — a religious freedom advocate and Gold Star parent of US Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed while serving in Iraq — will be appointed Commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The Algemeiner included B'nai B'rith International's praise, along with other Jewish organizations, of Germany's decision to boycott the United Nations' event marking the 20th anniversary of its World Conference Against Racism.
Major Jewish groups applauded Germany’s decision to boycott the event marking the 20th anniversary of the UN’s World Conference Against Racism to be held in Durban, South Africa.
First held in 2001, the conference has become notorious for serving as a forum for antisemitic materials and virulent anti-Israel activism.
This year’s 20th anniversary event is already being boycotted by the United States, Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Austria, Canada, Australia, and the Czech Republic.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said Saturday, “Germany has again asserted leadership in the global fight against antisemitism,” adding that the country “laudably recognized the discredited nature of the original conference, held in Durban, South Africa. We hope other nations will follow suit.”
“Confronting true racism around the world is a noble cause, but singling out one country, Israel, and one group of people, Jews, for continual censure is grossly unjust, and undermines the global fight against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry and hatred,” Harris added.
B’nai B’rith International tweeted, “We welcome the news that #Germany will not participate in @UN commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Durban conference, which was overtaken by anti-Jewish, anti-Israel bigotry.”
“All democracies must do similarly,” the group said.
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