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.
With time running out for survivors of the Holocaust and Nazi-era atrocities in Europe, the French government is taking steps to return some 2,000 pieces of art stolen 70 years ago.
According to Washington Jewish Week, officials from the French National Assembly visited B'nai B'rith International headquarters in Washington to discuss ways to restore looted artifacts to their rightful owners. This is critical dialogue and marks a policy shift for France, which has been criticized for its reluctance to return the art.
Read the highlights from the wide-ranging article, below:
The French officials met with representatives of B’nai B’rith International in the District and visited New York State’s Department of Finance, two very different organizations that share the same expertise sought by the French lawmakers: restoring stolen Nazi art to its rightful owners.
Returning the art to its rightful owners is no easy task, said Eric Fusfield, director of legislative affairs for B’nai B’rith International.
“Most survivors are deceased now. We’re really talking about descendants now and most don’t have documentation. They have anecdotes and might not be able to name a specific work. That’s part of the challenge.”
But with B’nai B’rith, the group talked about specifics, according to Gerard Leval, the organization’s general counsel, who took part in the meeting.
“It was good to hear people who sincerely want to do the right thing,” he said. “Almost nothing during the Holocaust was random [including the theft of art]. We said, ‘Go to your documents – when it was taken, from whom it was taken, and from where it was taken.’ ”
The B’nai B’rith group suggested that the French advertise in publications with Jewish readers in the United States and Argentina, Leval said. They also pointed out that with anti-Semitism and xenophobia flaring up in France, the government could score propaganda points by showing that it “was doing its very best in areas where it can help the Jewish population,” he added.
Fusfield isn’t ready to declare victory yet. He recalled the March ceremony in Paris where the French culture minister returned three looted works to the grandchildren of the original owners. The restitution coincided with the French premiere of the George Clooney movieMonuments Men, about GIs working to recover looted art.
“So that’s three,” Fusfield said.
“Hollande has open the doors and that’s great,” Soltes said. “But there is other stuff, French decorative arts – tables, chairs, Louis XIV, XV, XVI owned by Jewish families. The French have stonewalled on them. You can see how interestingly self-contradictory this whole effort can be.”
by Eric Fusfield
Europe's half-solution on Hizbullah is no solution at all.
In a development long awaited and much debated, Europe is finally moving closer to designating Hizbullah a terrorist organisation.
Or is it? Reports of Europe's newfound resolve in stopping the Hizbullah threat, regrettably, may be exaggerated.
The main obstacle in the effort to undercut Hizbullah in Europe has always been France, which has historic ties to Hizbullah's home country of Lebanon. France has long argued that blacklisting Hizbullah would upset the balance of power in Lebanon, where the organisation plays a political role.
In recent weeks, though, French officials have signalled their government's willingness to designate Hizbullah's military wing a terrorist organisation if the latter's role in a bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria last year is confirmed. Germany has also indicated it might favour blacklisting Hizbullah's armed branch, while the United Kingdom already has such a ban in place.
With the European Union's ‘big three' – France, Germany and Great Britain – on board, Europe might finally muster the consensus required to impose an European Union-wide ban on Hizbullah's military wing.
But what would such a move really mean? Unfortunately, not as much as Europeans would like to suggest.
A ban on Hizbullah's military branch would not stop the political wing of the organisation from operating openly in Europe, as it has done for years. Raising funds, recruiting, acquiring technological training and materials – all of these activities would continue with impunity. And no authority could stop the political arm of Hizbullah from using fungible assets to support the organisation's military and criminal activities.
Hizbullah is an organisation with a unified command structure that oversees all of the group's disparate, and often illicit, activities. Many of Hizbullah's leaders, including its current secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, have been linked to the organisation's terrorist activities; indeed, their terrorist and criminal exploits have been instrumental to their rise within Hizbullah's structure.
What makes Europe's propensity to differentiate between the military and political branches of Hizbullah almost comical is that Hizbullah itself makes no such distinction. “Hizbullah has a single leadership,” Nasrallah's deputy, Naim Qassem, told a reporter in 2009. “The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”
So far the Netherlands is the only EU member-state to blacklist Hizbullah outright, in doing so joining the United States, Israel, Canada, and even Bahrain.
But as the rest of Europe continues to suspend disbelief that Hizbullah is a single entity, the cost of such wilful denial – including the cost to European security – continues to rise. Overwhelming evidence points to Hizbullah's involvement last year not only in the Bulgaria attack, but in a foiled plot in Cyprus, as well.
Hizbullah today is increasingly coming to resemble the Hizbullah of the 1980s and 1990s, when the group routinely attacked civilian targets related to Israeli and other Western interests. Add to this the destructive role Hizbullah is playing in Syria by allying itself with the regime of President Bashar Assad, and the case for Europe blacklisting Hizbullah is more compelling than ever.
Europe's reluctance to ban Hizbullah outright can largely be attributed to fear of armed reprisal at home or abroad, as well as concern for how such a move might stir Europe's own restive Muslim population. However, Europeans cannot continue to mask their fecklessness by embracing the chimera of two separate and discrete Hizbullahs: one political, one military; one good, one bad. The consequences of perpetuating this falsehood are far more frightful than the alternative.
Eric Fusfield is deputy director of the B'nai B'rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, which describes itself as a global voice of the Jewish community...more.
by Dan Robinson
President Barack Obama will use his trip to Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Jordan to address Israelis and Palestinians about reviving peace efforts. Iran's nuclear program and Syria's civil war are also on the agenda.
Obama last visited Israel in 2008 as a senator and presidential candidate. Now, he returns as a two-term president, but has been unsuccessful in overcoming obstacles to Middle East peace.
Eric Fusfield of B’nai Brith International calls Obama's Mideast visit an opportunity to see what is really happening on the ground.
"There is really no substitute for face-to-face contact, people at the grassroots level, seeing and feeling what's happening in Israel today," he said...more.
The Algemeiner: Anti-Semitic Image Posted to Occupy Wall Street Facebook Page, Jewish Group Calls for Removal
by Zach Pontz
A highly offensive photo [shown at left] posted Saturday to a Facebook page associated with Occupy Wall Street shows two arms— one of which is tattooed with the Star of David— placed in a sink, hands covered in blood, a bar of soap embossed with “UN” in the left hand. A Jewish group has called on Facebook to remove the image, and an official Occupy Wall Street representative denied affiliation with the page, which appears to be the second largest of its kind boasting over 237K “Likes.”
Eric Fusfield, director of legislative affairs at global Jewish group B’nai Brith International, starkly condemned the image in an interview with The Algemeiner in calling for its removal. “This cartoon is blatant anti-semitic trash. It’s a play on ancient stereotypes on Jewish bloodlust. It’s part of a larger campaign by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish State by portraying Israelis as persecutors,” he said, “This is a way of isolating Israel, making it a pariah state. Facebook should take it down immediately. It should not play a role in the dissemination of hate speech...more.
A bipartisan group of six Congress members is sponsoring a bill that would ensure recognition of the plight of 850,000 Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries since Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
Their bill in the US House of Representatives also would recognize other displaced populations, including Christians from countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf...Both B’nai B’rith International and the World Jewish Congress were among those who applauded the proposed legislation.
“We want to ensure that the United States makes the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab nations a priority in multilateral discussions about the Middle East conflict,” said Eric Fusfield, B’nai B’rith’s international director of legislative affairs. “Any time refugee issues are discussed in the context of the peace negotiations, the rights of Jewish refugees need to be given their proper place.” ...read more.
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