B'nai B'rith Director of EU Affairs Alina Bricman published an op-ed in The EU Observer on the anti-Semitism on display at Belgium's Aalst Carnival.
This weekend (Sunday, 23 February), was the day of the yearly carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst.
For the Jewish community, this day approached with a lot of anxiety. In the 2019 edition, a float depicting exaggerated images of Orthodox Jews, with enlarged hooked noses, bags of money and surrounded by rats caused international outrage, and resulted in the delisting of the Aalst festival from Unesco's intangible heritage list – a first in the international body's history.
The whole protracted episode left Jewish advocacy and community organisations on one side and officials in Aalst on the other in an antagonist relationship, where regrettably public authorities in Aalst failed to understand the charges brought and to take responsibility accordingly and Jewish organisations were left warning of the dangers of the 2020 edition.
And the 2020 edition came and went: Jews portrayed as insects, people wearing fake ultra-Orthodox costumes, crass comments about circumcision and the Wailing Wall, uniforms resembling Nazi attire labelled Unestapo - a play on the word 'Gestapo', the secret police of the Nazis, and the mayor of Aalst, Christophe D'Haese, of the right-wing New Flemish Alliance, essentially insisting: Nothing wrong here.
And here in lies the problem: more disturbing – I think – than the displays themselves is the clear sense that locals don't understand what the issue is.
Following the backlash over last year's edition, the festival made it a nearly explicit purpose to poke the Jewish community, to exhibit its discontent for any international reactions and to instigate even more vehement responses from the Jewish community which it deemed oversensitive and unwilling to take a joke.
This approach found support among politicians as well: much like D'Haese, minister-president of Flanders Jan Jambon claimed that while people abroad may not understand it, the Aalst festival did not include anti-semitic manifestations.
Rather, it makes fun of everything and everyone.
Grain of salt
You may want to take that with a grain of salt: Jambon has a history of association with the far-right, be it through support of former Flemish Nazi collaborators, or affinity to members of the forbidden extreme right-wing paramilitary organisation Vlaamse Militanten Orde, and the Vlaams Blok extreme-right political party.
Jewish organisations – as well as many allies, be they public authorities, anti-discrimination bodies or civil society – have started to react and will continue to do so.
From calls for the EU to sanction Belgium to bans on the festival itself, the proposed remedies come in many forms and degrees of severity.
They may be warranted, and in search for a quick fix, they may do the surface trick, but unfortunately there's no easy solution to do away with the underlying problem in Aalst.
Prejudices are deeply-rooted; the lack of knowledge about the Jewish community; the lack of empathy and understanding for the other; the inability to see one's own biases; the missing opportunities for exchange - they have no easy fix. The problem in Aalst requires that we look well beyond Aalst.
As reactions mount in the coming days, I hope that they not only address the immediate need to prevent such displays in the future, but bring solutions to tackle their root causes. In its thoughtful and reserved approach in the past days, the organised Jewish community of Belgium has been a goodwill partner, open to be part of a constructive solution and to work with authorities both local and national to ensure a public space free of hatred and bigotry, where the Jewish community, like all communities, can leave in a welcoming and inclusive society.
Hopefully it will have others at the table.
This week, we mark the 10 year anniversary of the horrific July 7 London terror attacks.
In the aftermath of the attacks, read the thoughts of then B'nai B'rith International President Joel Kaplan, which appeared in the Fall 2005 Issue of B'nai B'rith Magazine:
In light of the current wave of unrelenting attacks against Israel's legitimacy, B'nai B'rith International joined B'nai B'rith Europe, local lodges and dozens of other Jewish organization to rally in support of Israel outside of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
B’nai B’rith is highly critical of the report issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) “independent, international commission of inquiry” into Israel’s defensive operations against Hamas in Gaza during the summer of 2014. The report inherently lacks credibility and should not be taken as a serious evaluation of the necessary counterterrorism actions of the Israel Defense Forces.
B'nai B'rith International's Israel/Middle East policy includes issues such as fighting terrorism; supporting Israel's right to defend itself; preventing Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons; preserving the unity of Jerusalem; promoting the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries; and supporting direct negotiations between the parties to the Middle East conflict while affirming the importance of Israel's critical security needs.
Photos below courtesy of Israel In Switzerland:
B'nai B'rith International and multinational leaders met with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican.
B'nai B'rith’s was the first international Jewish audience with the pope since the Vatican announced an agreement on church issues with “the State of Palestine,” and the pope separately acknowledged non-recognition of Israel as amounting to anti-Semitism.
Before he was known around the world at Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio hosted B’nai B’rith’s Kristallnacht commemoration in Buenos Aires in 2012.
Learn more about the latest visit from the international media coverage recap, below:
I am pleased to greet you during your visit to the Vatican. My predecessors met with delegations of B’nai B’rith International on several occasions, and today I offer you my welcome with renewed respect and affection.
Your organization has enjoyed relations with the Holy See since the promulgation of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate. This document constituted a milestone on the path of mutual knowledge and esteem between Jews and Catholics, based on the great spiritual patrimony that, thanks be to God, we share in common.
Looking back on these fifty years of regular dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism, I cannot help but thank the Lord for the great progress that has been made. Many initiatives fostering reciprocal understanding and dialogue have been undertaken; above all a sense of mutual trust and appreciation has developed. There are many areas in which we as Jews and Christians can continue to work together for the good of the peoples of our time. Respect for life and creation, human dignity, justice and solidarity unite us for the development of society and for securing a future rich in hope for generations to come. In a particular way, we are called to pray and work together for peace. Unfortunately, there are many countries and regions of the world that live in situations of conflict – I think in particular of the Holy Land and the Middle East – and that require a courageous commitment to peace, which is not only to be longed for, but sought after and built up patiently and tenaciously by everyone, especially believers.
During these moments together, I wish to recall with heartfelt gratitude all those who have fostered friendship between Jews and Catholics. I particularly want to mention Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II. Saint John saved many Jews during the Second World War, met with them numerous times, and greatly desired a conciliar document on this theme. Regarding Saint John Paul, his various historical gestures remain very much alive in our memories, such as his visit to Auschwitz and to the Great Synagogue of Rome. With the help of God, I wish to walk in their footsteps, encouraged too by the many beautiful encounters and friendships I enjoyed in Buenos Aires.
May the Almighty and Eternal One bless our dialogue abundantly, especially during this year in which we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, so that our friendship may always grow deeper and bear abundant fruit for our communities and the entire human family.
—¿Y qué dijeron los imanes musulmanes invitados a propósito de estos temas?
—Cuando hablaron los imanes, de Francia o Inglaterra, nos encontramos con un miedo diferente, pero no es un miedo menos vergonzoso para lo que es la democracia que debería tener a esta altura mucho más claro cómo defenderse de las agresiones. Los imanes hablan de una religión de paz, pero ellos no tienen mayoría en sus mezquitas, las mayorías los agreden y ellos también tienen miedo. ¿De quién tienen miedo ellos, de los antisemitas? No, de ellos solo tienen miedo los judíos, tienen miedo de su propia gente que los consideran traidores por su prédica, y bueno, la discriminación contra la mujer que predica el antisemitismo. Con lo cual, cualquier elección que haya hoy en Europa, parlamentaria o presidencial, la miramos como muy trascendente como se la miró a la de Inglaterra hace poco y se va a mirar a la de España y ni que hablar a la de Francia, para ver de qué manera los gobiernos son capaces de enfrentar algo que Europa no debería tener después de lo que Europa vivió no solo en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, antes y por muchos años después con los países del este, del comunismo, y años después con los países de la ex Yugoslavia.
—En estas latitudes, ha habido algunos episodios de antisemitismo, incluso en países muy cercanos. En Argentina en torno a hechos trágicos como la muerte del fiscal Alberto Nisman que dio lugar a diversas reacciones antisemitas, ¿cómo se evaluó esto?
—Nos tocó a nosotros, justamente, hacer la presentación de América Latina sobre una visión general para después ir país por país, y evidentemente no es lo mismo que nosotros podíamos exponer hace diez años. En este momento, lo que ha sucedido en los últimos meses en Argentina prende las alarmas en muchos sentidos. Que un gobierno democrático, como el gobierno argentino, diga por parte de algunos de sus voceros en forma pública y acuse a la comunidad judía o a autoridades de sus instituciones de conspirar contra el Estado argentino es un lenguaje que, evidentemente, si siempre fue peligroso y fue preludio de cosas trágicas, hoy es muy peligroso especialmente cuando estamos hablando de un país que sufrió dos atentados y que nunca pudo poner a los culpables, porque saber quiénes son se sabe pero nunca se pudo llevar a los culpables ante la justicia. Dos atentados, además de muchísimos muertos, el de la AMIA fue además de muchísimos muertos en relación con los atentados gravísimos en el resto del mundo y en un momento en que además de shock porque el fiscal que lleva la causa aparece muerto. Y además se genera una situación conflictiva pública donde aparece el antisemitismo, porque la causa que seguía el fiscal ha ido cayendo en una escalera donde se archivan cosas, donde se cambian veredictos, ya hay un dictamen de que fue suicidio.
—A diferencia de Europa los integrantes de las comunidades no han tenido que migrar hacia Israel para buscar refugio, ¿esa es la diferencia actual de América Latina?
—No se ha llegado a tonos de violencia, es cierto. Lo que sí es alarmante en Latinoamérica es que no todos los gobiernos actúan de la misma manera frente al antisemitismo y eso es muy grave porque deja desprotegida no solo a la comunidad judía sino a toda la sociedad. Cuando en Chile mataron hace dos años a una persona por ser homosexual y la sociedad salió a la calle y el Congreso se dio cuenta de que tenían que hacer una legislación antidiscriminatoria, eso habla de una reacción positiva. Pero cuando se dice que la comunidad judía es "conspiradora", bueno, nos acordamos de los Protocolos de los Sabios de Sión y de lo que pasó después.
The European Union started Passover on a sour note, announcing that the much-anticipated upcoming conference on combating rising anti-Semitism in Europe will not share equal billing with Islamophobia.
While B'nai B'rith International has been an outspoken global advocate of diversity and worked to combat prejudice and discrimination of all kinds, the concern is that adding other issues to the discussion of anti-Semitism allows government officials to avoid real action.
B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield spoke on behalf of the organization to the Jerusalem Post, highlights of which can be found below:
Jewish organizations worldwide expressed shock and dismay over the weekend following the announcement that the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency is planning on holding a conference that implies an equivalence between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
It will focus on the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment and violence across the continent and the “growing evidence in many European countries, especially in the past two years, of very high rates of anti-Muslim incidents, including acts of verbal and physical violence,” according to the organizers.
Jewish community leaders in Europe and elsewhere told The Jerusalem Post that despite being largely supportive of the FRA’s work, they believed it inappropriate for it to juxtapose hate directed against Muslims with anti-Semitism as if both were one and the same.
“The challenge of combating anti-Semitism would be better served by a stand-alone colloquium fully focused on the problem,” said Eric Fusfield, the legislative affairs director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy.
“Opponents of anti-Semitism have tried for years to promote greater understanding of anti-Semitism as a distinct phenomenon with unique dimensions sometimes requiring unique solutions,” he said.
“It is true that some strategies for combating anti-Semitism may apply to other forms of intolerance as well, but the fact is that, for too long, the tendency of governments and international organizations to conflate anti-Semitism with other social illnesses has served as a means of avoiding the problem rather than addressing it head on, even as the crisis facing Jewish communities has intensified in Europe and elsewhere,” he added.
This year, some two-dozen B’nai B’rith International leaders and supporters, including with three representatives from the national Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), met with senior representatives from more than 40 countries. B'nai B'rith is proud to partner with AEPi through community service, educational programming and advocacy. We work together to encourage brothers to remain involved in the Jewish community after college graduation.
AEPi's David Marias, Civic Engagement Coordinator, recorded highlights of his advocacy experience on Instagram.
Enjoy a slideshow of his images, below:
I travelled to Brussels, Belgium to attend a seminar at the European Union on activism, lobbying, and key political/social issues in the EU. I was sponsored to go entirely for free to the seminar, which was co-hosted by EUJS (European Union of Jewish Students,) DoJAS (Delegation of Jewish American Students,) and B’nai B’rith International .
We delved into pressing issues like human rights, terrorism, access to education, and Anti-Semitism. After experiencing such an impressive blend of international culture in Brussels I’m inspired to keep seeking out more diversity both here in Spain and back at TCNJ.
This made me realize how accessible and real these influential foreign officials can be, given some personal drive and a few connections. In what felt like a matter of minutes I went from TCNJ, to Spain, to Brussels, to speaking in a foreign language with a high-level European government official about an issue I’m passionate about.
B'nai B'rith France was a key contributor to the first-of-its-kind European Parliament discussion on anti-Semitism, presenting to the delegation for relations with Israel.
The delegation is headed by Italian MEP Fulvio Martusciello, who made his first visit to Israel as a guest of B'nai B'rith International last October.
The delegation discussed the disturbing rise in violence and rhetoric against European Jewish communities since Operation Protective Edge brought defensive conflict to Israel in the summer of 2014.
Read excerpts from an article written in the European Jewish Press, below:
Other speakers included Stéphane Teicher, Vice- President of B’nai B’rith France and Jane Braden-Golay, President of the European Union of Jewish Students.
"The fact that anti-Semitism becomes ordinary to the eyes of the civil society is a matter of concern," said Teicher, who noted the indifference of the population. "There was no mass reaction in France following grave anti-Semitic developments of protests in Paris during last summer Israeli Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza."
But he sees also matters of hope, citing the "very strong commitment of the French government not to tolerate anti-Semitism and its actions," the fact that the January attacks in Paris against a kosher supermarket and in Copenhagen against a synagogue "clearly showed the clear link between radical Islamism and anti-Semitism."
"Muslim leaders understand that the French Muslim community is under threat too," Teicher added
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