Iton Gadol interviewed B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin about the alarming rise in global anti-Semitism, our organization’s invaluable voice speaking out on issues impacting Jews and Israel across the globe, his time leading the organization and more. Iton Gadol’s article is in Spanish, but below is the English translation.
Read in Iton Gadol (in Spanish). Read the English translation below.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, the CEO of B’nai B’rith International, held an interview with Iton Gadol in which, in relation to the current situation of anti-Semitism in the world, he said: “In my professional and personal life, I don’t think I have ever seen the amount of anti-Semitism or the widespread manifestations as we do today.” As the director of an institution with 179 years of history, he also stressed that “one of the great strengths of B’nai B’rith is its internationality. We have members, supporters and offices in many parts of the world. That produces constant energy and interest in the issues that affect the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the fight against anti-Semitism.”
“When it comes to anti-Semitism, one of the leading tools in combating anti-Semitism has been the emergence of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism, which has attracted the support of governments, universities, athletic teams, non-governmental organizations and others,” Mariaschin added.
First of all I would like to ask you, specifically, what is your role in B’nai B’rith?
I am the CEO of B’nai B’rith International and the Director of our International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy. I have worked at B’nai B’rith for more than 30 years. I direct and supervise our programs, activities and staff around the world. A significant part of my role is meeting with world leaders in an effort to advance human rights, protect the rights of Jewish communities worldwide and promote better relations with the state of Israel.
How can an organization like B’nai B’rith be so present and so up to date so many years after its founding?
One of the great strengths of B’nai B’rith is its internationality. We have members and supporters and offices in many places around the globe. That produces an ongoing energy and interest on issues affecting the Jewish people and the state of Israel in combating anti-Semitism.
When it comes to anti-Semitism, one of the leading tools in combating anti-Semitism has been the emergence of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism, which has attracted the support of governments, universities, athletic teams, non-governmental organizations and others. But much more needs to be done to build support for this vital pathway to addressing hatred against Jews.
How important is Bnai Brith in the eyes of governments and other organizations? As an organization that has been on the scene for so long, speaking out on issues impacting Jews and Israel, governments around the world not only know our name but also know our work and seek out our opinions on a whole range of issues. That also allows us to raise important topics on our agenda. Many doors are open to us. Some are not. But we know that interaction with policy makers is extremely important in addressing the challenges that we face as a people. B’nai B’rith is a founding member of the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution organization. We play a leading role in negotiations to provide restitution and compensation to survivors and their families. I participate in these negotiations, which are so important, even as the number of Holocaust survivors drops dramatically.
Can you help us understand how B’nai B’rith has such a wide range of issues that it deals with on a daily basis and that crosses such a varied agenda, from the fight against anti-Semitism to the donation of wheelchairs, from strong international demands and extremely politically sensitive situations to human rights and social action?
Our diversity is a source of great pride to us. We began as a volunteer organization helping an indigent widow nearly 180 years ago. That mission of helping those in need remains very central to our agenda.
But so does the fight against anti-Semitism, where we were engaged very early and in support of the State of Israel and where we have played an important role over these last 75 years.
We take the commandment to honor thy mother and father, by providing affordable housing for elderly citizens of all race or religions, and by advocating on a range of social issues that directly impact older people.
We also assist those who are the victims of natural disasters.
Because we are a community-based organization, here in the U.S. and abroad, that puts us in direct contact with those in need. Housing is a local program, but it becomes a global issue when older adults cannot live safely, affordably and with dignity. Disaster relief becomes local when we help the victims trying to recover their lives after a natural disaster impacts their community. Being community based has made us into this full- service organization that is unique in Jewish life.
How does B’nai B’rith pivot between the Jewish world and society at large?
Being the small global community that we are as Jews, it has always been important to us to reach out for allies in the broader non-Jewish community, including in diplomacy, in social welfare issues, in academia and across religious faiths. We have always sought out friends and allies to be supportive of those issues that we face on a daily basis.
What is the state of anti-Semitism in the world today?
In my professional and personal life, I don’t think I have ever seen the amount of anti-Semitism or the widespread manifestations as we do today. It’s the perfect storm of hatred from the Far Left, from the Far Right and from Islamic extremism, which daily produces so many incidents, in the real world and virtually. There is no question that the internet, through social media, has been a tremendous multiplier in this regard. Adding fuel to that fire is an obsession with demonizing and delegitimizing Israel.
B’nai B’rith, which has been active at the Untied Nations since its founding, engages much of its program activity, for example, in battling bias against Israel in that International body and its various agencies.
What are the issues that most concern B’nai B’rith at the moment?
Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias. The existential threat posed by the Iranian regime to Israel. The frightening growth of anti-Semitism on university campuses. At the United Nations, the number of anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and other agencies is a deep cause for concern. And of great importance to us as an international organization is connecting to Jewish communities around the world. In Latin America, while there are several large Jewish communities, many are small. We promote Jewish continuity and communal activity on a range of activities, including Holocaust education and commemoration throughout the hemisphere. We are the first Jewish organization to be accredited at the Organization of American States and our engagement with many governments in the hemisphere allows us to discuss and raise issues of importance to Jewish communities in those places.
But we also place a high priority on advocating for seniors, including for affordable and safe housing, as well as such issues impacting seniors as aging well. Jews, wherever they live, generally have smaller families and in this age, where people live longer, that has produced a wide swath of seniors for whose needs we must be attentive.
Recently we have seen your presence and demands on issues such as the conflict with the president of Chile and Israel in an important meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chile, Antonia Urrejola, or your presence and demands on the issue of the Iranian plane stranded in Buenos Aires. This shows that your representations in the world are alert and working together with you from Washington almost as a permanent monitoring?
As a U.S.-based organization, we consider the countries of Latin America to be our close neighbors. It’s natural that we would seek out, or seek to engage, in public diplomacy on a wide range of issues. Which is why we have a significant presence, with professionals and volunteers, throughout the region.
How do you observe Latin America and what issues are of concern to you?
A top priority is the bi-lateral relationship between the countries of Latin America and the United States. We’ve supported free-trade agreements to enhance the economic well-being for the peoples of Latin America. We are concerned by those countries which are led by authoritarians who scapegoat Israel.
B’nai B’rith International co-sponsored and participated in the Second Annual Central America and Israel Forum, which took place in Panama City, can you share some conclusions with us?
The world gets increasingly smaller by the day because of the internet. We now know more about each other than ever before. Given that Central America is home to a number of Jewish communities, it is important for us to meet on a regular basis to discuss our common agenda dealing with human rights, anti-Semitism and support for strong relations between the countries of the region and the State of Israel.
Finally, how 2023 is projected?
Many of the issues in 2022 will still be with us in 2023: We continue to be concerned about an Iran that not only poses a threat to Israel but to the entire region. We continue to engage in various programs aimed at combating anti-Semitism, bias at the United Nations, issues of Jewish aging and continuity. But also for us, 2023 sees B’nai B’rith celebrating our 180th birthday and all of us will be celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday.
With all of the difficulties and challenges that we face, for Jews as a people, perseverance and optimism have been very much part of our existence for thousands of years. Our commitment to strengthening and defending Jewish life does not waver.