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.
B'nai B'rith International joined a chorus of Jewish organizations that voiced displeasure at a recent Vatican's move on the recognition of a "State of Palestine.”
In follow-up analysis, B'nai B'rith Director of United Nations Affairs David Michaels examined the history of the terminology, noting that the Vatican has made prior references to the "State of Palestine," and concluding that the move, while disappointing, is unlikely to affect Israelis or Palestinians.
Read media coverage from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on B'nai B'rith's statement on the Vatican:
A May 13 announcement on an agreement regarding the functioning of the church in areas under Palestinian control raised eyebrows in its reference to the “State of Palestine.”
The upset was compounded by confusion over whether Pope Francis, in a meeting over the weekend with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, praised him as an “angel of peace” or urged him to attain that vaunted status. On Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman said it was “very clear” that the pope was “encouraging a commitment to peace.”
But the Vatican’s shift from terming its Palestinian partner as the Palestine Liberation Organization — the designation Israel accepts — to calling it Palestine comports with a shift in Europe toward accommodating Palestinian statehood aspirations, the Jewish officials said.
Daniel Mariaschin, the director of B’nai B’rith International, said the recognition of Palestine raised concerns, but they must be seen in the context of an increased willingness in Europe to recognize Palestinian statehood and not of Jewish-Catholic relations.
He likened it to the French and British parliaments recent nonbinding recognition of Palestine and Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood.
“It’s important, I won’t dismiss it, but it shouldn't be seen outside that broader context,” Mariaschin said. “It raises the expectations of Palestinians to un-meetable levels and frustrates the Israelis who say we can’t get a fair deal in the international community.”
B'nai B'rith International Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs David J. Michaels responded to recent allegations of genocide hurled at Israel by the likes of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and comedian Russell Brand.
By placing the history of genocide in perspective, Michaels argues that unfounded accusations of genocide, occupation and apartheid threaten to erode the very real definitions of those terms.
His response appears in the form of an op-ed in the Times of Israel, and appears posted in its entirety below:
Don’t Play Politics With Genocide
At the United Nations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asserted last month that Israel’s efforts to protect its citizens have amounted to “genocide.”
He did so, in language never remotely reciprocated by Israel, despite well knowing the nature of his current partners in Hamas, which had violently ended Abbas’s rule in Gaza, tossing his loyalists off buildings there.
In 1948, three years after the end of the Holocaust, two events represented a pivotal rejoinder to that most systematic of genocides. The State of Israel was founded – stemming a 2,000-year Jewish exile pervaded by persecution. And the U.N. General Assembly adopted its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to help ensure that no people would again be subjected to massive violence of the most unprovoked, calculated and indiscriminate kind.
The world body’s adoption of the Genocide Convention was celebrated as a deeply hopeful achievement by Jews. Yale legal scholar Raphael Lemkin – a Jewish émigré who lost nearly his entire family to the Nazi atrocities – coined the term genocide in 1943, defining it as “the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group.” Later, he drafted the Genocide Convention.
While the Holocaust was a distinct event in history, the appeal “never again” must apply to other people as much as it does to Jews.
However, not every loss of life can be labeled genocide. If genocide means everything, it could, dangerously, come to mean nothing.
Some of the world’s worst violators of human rights have an interest in stripping the term genocide of its purpose and potency through misuse.
More generally, ours is an era of stridency and populism, too often lacking nuance. When it comes to the most grave of charges, though, context matters and details matter, concerning both intentions and actions.
Iran pledges Israel’s destruction while illicitly pursuing nuclear capabilities and sustaining the groups, including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, responsible for perennially forcing Israeli counterterrorism. Despite this, some commentators condemn as overblown any comparison of the Tehran regime to those, historically, who made good on remarkably open threats of monumental aggression.
By contrast, the subjection of Israel to the most inflammatory of rhetoric has again over recent months been met with astounding silence.
Iran’s supposedly moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, accused Israel of a “huge genocide” in Gaza – this from the leader of a government enabling bloodshed in Syria that has claimed far more Arab life in three years than Israel has in sixty-six.
Not given pause by the absence of gas chambers or crematoria, Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Israel has “surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”
And in an interview with the BBC, Hamas’s official spokesman (who, separately, alleged that Jews use Christian blood in matzo) charged Israel with “Nazism.” The allegation was met with a bumbling response from the BBC’s normally opinionated interviewer.
All this is not without consequence. Singular abuse of Israel in international forums creates the distortion that Israel has one of the worst, not one of the best, records as a progressive society.
When 56 U.N. member states – including nearly all of the world’s foremost oil exporters – belong to the Arab and Muslim bloc, a Human Rights Council resolution on Gaza can assail Israel but not even mention Hamas. And, of course, countries deemed to be perpetrating crimes like “apartheid,” genocide and Nazism – all-too-often interchanged – are expected to be dealt with accordingly.
If Israel has intended apartheid, it has proven mind-bogglingly inept, having created the freest and most pluralistic society in the Middle East in the face of relentless warfare.
And if Israel has intended genocide, it is among history’s most abysmal failures. Despite its military abilities, the population of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs has multiplied dramatically, even as the number of Jews, Christians and other minorities has tellingly plummeted elsewhere in the region.
After the genocides of the last century, there were among the victims no “victory” parades, as there were in Gaza after the latest hostilities. There was silence.
And during past genocides, there were no refusals of ceasefires by the beleaguered or pledges of new violence, as by Gaza’s factions – typically because the victims were not doing the firing.
Notably, despite the rush to equate Israel with Hamas in indiscriminate fire, males of fighting age appear to have been the most overrepresented group among recent Palestinian casualties in Gaza, the overwhelming majority of which went untargeted by Israel.
These facts, though, don’t suffice to penetrate international politics. Not in an age when a pop culture personality like Russell Brand can smugly invoke Israeli “occupation” in questioning Hamas’s categorization as a terrorist movement. No matter that Israel, which has supported a two-state peace, completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005 – and that if Jews lack even a right to exist in their historic homeland then Brand would hardly have a right to legitimately reside anywhere.
The British funnyman even likened Hamas to Gandhi – a comparison that might be worth discussing if not for Gandhi’s insistence upon non-violence, and the fact that Gandhi never aspired to the obliteration of Britain itself.
The continuing Arab-Israeli conflict has unquestionably claimed all too many lives, and those losses are heartrending. But not all loss of life constitutes murder, let alone genocide.
In the 1940s, in the face of a fascist onslaught, Britons and others responded, despite the heavy toll, not with complacency but with the necessary force.
Today, an array of countries is committed to combating such groups as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, Jemaah Islamiyah, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS.
As Palestinians again threaten to take Israel to the International Criminal Court over its struggle against fanatics deliberately operating among, and targeting, non-combatants, we must consider the implications of precluding counterterrorism by recklessly mislabeling it as genocide.
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin and Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs David J. Michaels penned an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times on Aug. 27.
The piece urged the United Nations to place Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year, on the list of officially recognized holidays. A committee will convene on the matter next month.
Read the op-ed in its entirety, below:
THE emblem of the United Nations shows the planet brought together in the embrace of two olive branches. Its charter affirms the “equal rights” of “nations large and small.” But in the “family of nations,” some members are more equal than others. No example of this inequity is starker than that of Israel.
The State of Israel was created, in the Jewish ancestral homeland, as a result of a United Nations resolution. Its 1948 proclamation of independence refers to the United Nations seven times. Israel tries to contribute to international peace in every area in which it can help, from disaster relief to medical innovation to agricultural technology. Jewish hope in the organization — created in the aftermath of the Holocaust — can be discerned in the words from Isaiah inscribed beside the Sharansky Steps, which face the United Nations headquarters in New York City: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
But over time, Israel has been a target for exceptional mistreatment at the United Nations. A pluralistic democracy facing extremists sworn to its destruction, Israel is routinely condemned by the body’s Human Rights Council, more than any other member state. Israel’s assailants at the United Nations often assert that they respect Jews and Judaism — and reserve their shrill disdain only for Israeli policies and Zionism. But the demonization of Israel calls their motives into question.
The United Nations is headquartered in the United States, the country with the most Jews outside Israel, and in New York City, which has the single largest Jewish population in the Diaspora. Judaism, of course, is an ancient, biblical religion — a precursor of the two dominant world faiths — and Jewish communities can be found in at least 120 member states.
In 1997, the General Assembly added two Muslim holidays (Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr) to the official calendar of the United Nations headquarters. Two of the 10 holidays are Christian (Good Friday and Christmas) and the other six are American federal holidays. None is Jewish.
Important United Nations events — even, sometimes, meetings related to Israel — have repeatedly been scheduled on major Jewish holidays, forcing Jewish diplomats and representatives of civil society to choose between their professional duties and their faith and families.
Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year, unites Jews of all nationalities, political orientations and degrees of observance. The Day of Atonement, as it is known — traditionally spent in fasting, prayer and introspection — represents the universal aspiration to self-improvement and to making amends. Last month, 32 nations — including Argentina, Canada, Israel, Nigeria and the United States — declared their support for adding Yom Kippur (Oct. 3-4 this year) to the United Nations calendar. Next month, a committee will take up the matter.
In 1999, Secretary General Kofi Annan acknowledged that, to observers, “it has sometimes seemed as if the United Nations serves all the world’s peoples but one: the Jews.” In 2006, his successor, Ban Ki-moon, told our organization, B’nai B’rith, that the United Nations should always be “a place where Jews and the State of Israel can feel at home.” Recently, Mr. Ban felt compelled to condemn an “upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks.”
One way to combat bigotry is by demonstrating respect. The Yom Kippur proposal is a nonpolitical one — unrelated to Israel’s recent hostilities with Hamas — and a test of inclusiveness. All 193 United Nations members, including the 56 in the Muslim bloc, should support it.
B’nai B’rith sent the following letter to the editor to the New York Times on Aug. 14.
Read it in its entirety, below:
The lumping together of "Israel, Sri Lanka and Syria" is precisely what is perverse about the record of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and the Human Rights Council.
Israel is condemned by the council more than all other countries. Syria, though, has killed more Arabs in three years than Israel has in sixty-six.
Ms. Pillay has never criticized the council’s repressive members for a permanent agenda item singling out Israel alone for harsh scrutiny.
Irresponsibly, she suggests equivalence between Israel, a democracy, and Hamas, a terrorist movement. She emphasizes Israel's "occupation," ignoring the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and Hamas’s rejection of Israel’s existence within any borders. She also rushed to claim disproportionate Palestinian civilian casualties when most Gazans recently killed appear to have been males of fighting age.
Ms. Pillay awaits Israeli countermeasures to incessant violence before sounding any alarm. Her valuing of certain lives above others was made explicit when she said she opposed Palestinian attacks but "most especially" Israeli responses.
Discrimination has no place in the pursuit of human rights.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President
David J. Michaels, Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs
B'nai B'rith International
B'nai B'rith International has been an outspoken critic of the bias against Israel from the international community during Operation Protective Edge.
In response to recent outrageous accusations of "genocide" and "Hitler-like fascism" made by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, B'nai B'rith International Director of UN and Intercommunal Affairs, David J. Michaels, signed a public statement denouncing the charges.
The History News Network covered the story, based on a statement organized by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. Read an excerpt of the article below:
More than 400 Jewish leaders, rabbis, and Holocaust and genocide scholars have signed a public statement denouncing accusations that Israel has committed genocide in Gaza.
The statement was organized by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, based in Washington, D.C. It follows a July 9 claim by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, that Israel is "committing genocide," an August 1 assertion by Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha'ath that the situation in Gaza is "a Holocaust," and an August 1 accusation by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan that Israel is guilty of "Hitler-like fascism."
"The Holocaust was the deliberate, systematic mass murder of six million innocent Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators," the statement by the 400 leaders notes. "By contrast, Israel is acting in legitimate self-defense against Hamas terrorism. Israel has no interest in harming innocent civilians, and indeed has done its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, whereas Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians. Any comparison between Israel and the Nazis outrageously distorts Israel's actions and trivializes the enormity and nature of the Holocaust."
The signatories include:
* Prominent figures in the American Jewish leadership, including David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Michael Siegal and Jerry Silverman, the chair and president, respectively, of the Jewish Federations of North America; David J. Michaels, Director of UN and Intercommunal Affairs for B'nai B'rith International; Rabbi Dr. Yitz Greenberg and Prof. Walter Reich, past chairman and past executive director, respectively, of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; and leaders of the American Society for Yad Vashem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center; the National Council of Young Israel; the Religious Zionists of America; and the Wexner Foundation.
Letter To The Editor: 'Tensions Escalate Between Israel And A Second Party in Gaza: The United Nations'
Fifty-six of the U.N.’s members belong to the Muslim bloc and 21 to the Arab League; nine of 12 major oil-exporting states are among these. Accordingly, Israel, a democracy facing terrorists sworn to its eradication, is routinely condemned more than all other countries combined. Israel alone is excluded from its regional group at the U.N.
Only the Palestinian nationalist movement enjoys a U.N. day of solidarity, a separate refugee agency operating under politicized terms, a human rights “special rapporteur,” a General Assembly non-member seat, and multiple bodies dedicated to promoting its political narrative and goals.
Last month’s Human Rights Council session on Gaza neglected in its adopted resolution to even mention Hamas. Those prompting the session included an array of serial rights violators, none of which have ever been the subject of a special session. No such sessions are ever convened before Israel reacts to years of grave violence.
Despite having made peace with every willing neighbor, Israel is subjected to scrutiny at the council under an agenda item separate from one addressing all other countries. No matter that more people have been killed in three years in Syria than in some 70 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Here, partiality is a fact, not an allegation.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President AND
David J. Michaels, Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs
B'nai B'rith International Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels addressed "The July 9th Symposium" at the U.S. Capitol.
The event was organized and moderated by Honorary President Richard D. Heideman to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Court of Justice's unjust "advisory opinion" on Israel's security fence, which has saved an untold number of lives from Palestinian terrorism.
B'nai B'rith was a co-sponsor of the event, which was also addressed by Ron Dermer, ambassador of Israel to the United States; Keith Harper, new U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council; Canadian Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister and attorney general; and Frederick M. Lawrence, president of Brandeis University.
Video courtesy of the Israel Forever Foundation:
During Pope Francis' historic visit to Israel and the Middle East last week, he was greeted by a delegation at the Western Wall that included B'nai B'rith International director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels.
Michaels had a front-row view for many of the meetings and greetings during the two-day visit, and was a quoted source in a Q&A published in The Jewish Week after the trip.
Read an excerpt below and click through for the full story:
Also in Israel for the visit was David Michaels, director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs for B’nai B’rith International. He pointed out also that there was a diversity of religious leaders at the presidential residence — including Muslims who knelt in prayer.
There were leaders of the Hindu faith, Sufis among the Muslim leaders, Sikhs, Christian Orthodox leaders and many others in the audience. That to me signaled that the pope is universally admired, and that people are very hopeful that he may be able to achieve a greater level of comity among the different faiths.
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