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Who We Are: Seeking, Finding, Appreciating the Truth

By Charles O. Kaufman, B’nai B’rith International President


One of the best aspects of B’nai B’rith International’s June gathering in Portugal had nothing to do with the Tuk-Tuk tour or wine tasting in Lisbon. It had nothing to do with wandering through the Jewish Quarter. It had nothing to do with Jewish experiences with friends, old and new.

Instead, it was that during the span of a week, I did not watch one minute of television news. As someone with a voracious appetite for media — all of it — I went completely off the opinion-driven grid. The benefits were similar to our fasting. It forced introspection. It served as a good, head-clearing detox for the soul.

Upon returning from Portugal and reconnecting with the flat-screen TV, I found, to my dismay, that nothing had changed. News topics were the same. What I discovered during my self-imposed blackout was perhaps the only truth oddly came from one of the great purveyors of evil the world has ever known, Adolf Hitler. He understood what anti-Semites have always known. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

This philosophy fueled anti-Semitism entering World War II and is often fully integrated into global political discourse, replete with biases, stereotypes and hate. Of course, in the Jewish world we know this as Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. Sadly, it’s as relevant today as it has been through the ages.

Repeated hate, repeated stereotypes, repeated lies. I chaired one of six panels this summer at a Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. One of the few areas of agreement from this diverse group was that more education is needed. As we attempt to repair the world, we first must mend growing fractures within our community.

No matter how much you believe the 2013 Pew Research data, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which tracked Jewish identity and observance, one thing is clear: The gap in knowledge about Judaism, Jewish history, anti-Semitism and Zionism is, indeed, a vast abyss. How much assimilation and adaptation of Jewish practice can we absorb without redefining the religion?


Prayers offered at the Western Wall tunnel, at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, venerated by Jews for thousands of years.
Will some “New Judaism” or “New Zionism” movement align itself with adversaries in the spirit of cooperation, only to devolve into a period of indifference or disconnection regarding Israel? Threats to Israel’s security once galvanized the world’s Jews. Today, the divisions are wider between today’s zealots and those who’ve strayed. For those who know Jewish history, biblical and modern-day, this situation is nothing new. We’ve always had these divisions, even during 40 years of wandering in the desert. The world today is filled with extremism — and not from just on one side, but uniquely from neo-Nazi groups on the right and communist and American socialist groups on the left. Guess who is a favorite target for both? Indeed, our people. And this dynamic is creating some splits even within our own community, particularly with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and with Middle East politics.

For generations, we acknowledge inherited Jewish practices because our grandparents or parents did them that way. What will your children tell their children? Just as our grandparents worried, so do we.

These concerns are a driving force in B’nai B’rith’s 176-year-old mission. Too many children are facing challenges, with mixed marriages, divorces and evolving modifications of Jewish education. They are susceptible to hearing falsehoods about us as a people. Of course, this is nothing new. Blood libels have been a major part of our history for millennia. Children must learn or be reminded of these popular lies used to demean Jews and Israel and to promote anti-Semitism. It is a story that must be shared annually, much like the Exodus from Egypt, during a Seder.

We know how it begins. We know how it ends. We know the symbolic foods. We know the old joke: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.


The Tomb of Avraham in the Cave of the Patriarchs [Cave of Machpelah] outside of Hebron on the West Bank, a place with great historical and spiritual significance to both Jews and Muslims.


Inviting visitors to offer up their prayers, a plaque at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount provides a narrative of its historical and theological significance to the Jewish people.
More than the 10 plagues, here are 12 lies that are the story of anti-Semitism. They are recited daily by our enemies:

  • Israel is an illegitimate state, and Jews have no claim to the land. False. Artifacts and archeology prove otherwise. We’ve been there for 4,000 years.
  • The Western Wall belongs to Muslims. Jews have no tie to it. Simply false. (See the item above.)
  • Zionism is racism. False. Zionism is the concept of Israel being the homeland of the Jewish people. It is a proclamation and the source of devotion in every book of the Torah. It is espoused in daily prayers. Israel is central to Jewish identity. Without a Jewish homeland, our identity is placed in question. The racism claim attempts to redefine Zionism, to the point of eliminating both the land and the religion.
  • Israel seeks to be a colonial power. False. It seeks to be an ally in the world.
  • Settlements are the cause of violence in the so-called West Bank. False. Not all settlements in the West Bank are illegal. A major motivation for violence is the enduring mission to destroy Israel, the crux of Palestine Liberation Organization ( PLO)  and Hamas charters. Refusal to come to the negotiating table is another cause.
  • Israel is an apartheid state. False. This is an insult to those who suffered under the policy of Afrikaaners from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. In Israel, Israeli Arabs serve as judges, legislators and in other leadership roles as part of the national fabric. Apartheid is a word used to describe institutional racism in Soweto (South Western Townships), a segregated suburb of Johannesburg, and the rest of South Africa. While various forms of discrimination are visible in Israeli society, just as they are in the United States and other Western societies, it no longer approaches the level of institutional racism experienced in the apartheid state.
  • Israel keeps Palestinians in refugee camps. False. Palestinians keep Palestinians in refugee areas.
  • The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operate like Nazi storm troopers. False. The IDF, with few exceptions, is known to defend Israel with great restraint. Some soldiers who crossed the line have been tried, convicted and punished.
  • Israel targets innocents at Palestinian schools provided through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, hospitals and mosques. False. These sites are used to launch attacks through tunnels and launch missiles.
  • Israel is working to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. False.
  • Israel is to blame for the hopelessness that Palestinians feel. False in so many ways … and finally …
  • Jesus was a Palestinian from Nazareth. This is historically inaccurate. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a town in Judea. He was Jewish. Some call him a rabbi. Palestine never existed during Jesus’s life.
This list of false narratives could be longer. I haven’t even touched on widely known anti-Semitic canards called blood libels, in which Jews were accused of murdering Christian children to use their blood for ritual purposes.

At the end of this B’nai B’rith anti-Semitism Seder, the participants will have gained an understanding of this scourge that continues relentlessly through time. No one has found a way to eliminate it, but whenever and wherever it occurs, it must be fiercely confronted.