By Gary P. Saltzman
President, B’nai B’rith International
B’nai B’rith President Gary P. Saltzman (center left), Israeli U.N. Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter (center) and B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin (center right), with the B’nai B’rith delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council and United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Geneva.
Sometimes progress can be measured only incrementally, and views of success have to be adjusted. This is especially true on the international stage, where global politics and policy can seem to be moving so slothlike that you question if they are moving at all.
In March, CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and I led the annual B’nai B’rith mission to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva and met with officials at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris.
Both organizations have a reliably anti-Israel record.
The Human Rights Council has only one standing item when it meets three times a year: to consider Israel’s human rights record. Under the general agenda “Item 7,” the council, made up of such human rights luminaries as China, Iraq and Venezuela, routinely castigates Israel.
And so, B’nai B’rith attends the council’s spring session as a matter of routine. We meet with representatives of dozens of nations, asserting the bias and unfairness of this two-tiered system and offering solutions on how to even the deck that is so currently stacked against Israel.
Since voting blocs are endemic to the Human Rights Council system, we recognize that success is going to come one country at a time so, we make our case one country at a time. Our delegation met with senior diplomats from the United States, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and dozens more.
We are particularly encouraged by the opportunity to develop relationships with several African nations. We had quite a few positive meetings. And Israel is making it a priority now to have economic and agricultural outreach to many nations. These first-hand connections, the face-to-face meetings and diplomacy, are vital to increasing fairness.
Two recent developments in the U.N. universe give us a renewed sense of purpose. The new United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, seems particularly attuned to anti-Israel bias. In March, Guterres adamantly and forcefully rejected a U.N. committee report that called Israel an “apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” At the same time, the ambassador to the United Nations from the United States, Nikki Haley, also unequivocally condemned the same report and demanded its withdrawal. It seems that the message we have been delivering to the world body for decades—that Israel is systematically singled out, usually at the expense of vital human rights issues facing many in the world—may finally be resonating in important halls and offices.
UNESCO also presents itself as anti-Israel. And we have long challenged the organization’s twisting of history into a political tool wielded with venom against the Jewish state. UNESCO has been quick to adopt the Palestinian narrative that outright erases documented historic connections of Jews to Judaism’s holiest sites: the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
The rewriting of history is not just a problem for Jews. Christians and Muslims also lose when history is viewed as malleable.
In March, at meetings with staff liaisons and with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, B’nai B’rith leaders provided expert analysis and guidance, demonstrating the irrefutable, thousands-year-old ties of Jews to the land as well as suggesting ways for UNESCO to publicly recognize Israel’s history.
As we reiterate the unfair treatment of Israel at the Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the General Assembly and basically all U.N. affiliates, we are seeing slow but possibly measurable progress in eliminating unfairness. We are not complacent. Often, one step forward finds two steps back someplace else. But each time we whittle away at bias, it’s a success.
B’nai B’rith is honored to be part of the solution. Though it might be slow in coming, we see our efforts can pay a dividend.
By Daniel S. Mariaschin
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, B’nai B’rith International
This is a year of anniversaries for Israel and the Jewish people. Among them are the 120th, marking the First Zionist Congress; the centenary of the Balfour Declaration; Israel’s 69th anniversary, and the 50th anniversary of both the Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem.
We are accustomed to round-number anniversaries, or those that end in 5. But Israel’s 69th should not be lost in the shuffle of activity this year. We need to pause and remember the difficult days between the Holocaust, the end of World War II, David Ben-Gurion’s reading of Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, and the war that followed against Israel’s invading Arab neighbors.
On V-E (Victory in Europe) Day 1945, European Jewry had been nearly exterminated. Survivors struggled to re-establish their lives where they had lived, or in displaced person camps. Many had lost their families, their homes, their livelihoods. Mandatory Palestine, ruled by the British, was indeed hatikvah, the hope, with its Jewish-majority cities, its self-defense organizations, its farms and factories, its growing cultural vitality.
But getting there was the problem. Notwithstanding the horrendous devastation of Jewish communities and the horrors of the concentration camps—all of which were known to the British authorities, the doors were closed. Instead of being treated as the victims they were, they were prevented from setting foot on their sought-after haven.
Hard-hearted and politically motivated would be charitable terms for what the British did, but much harsher descriptions would be far more apt. Tramp steamers and old cargo ships crammed with survivors bearing concentration camp tattoos on their arms were stopped, some within sight of Israel’s coastal towns and cities and turned away, their passengers were then interned in detention camps on the island of Cyprus, which the British also controlled. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee provided assistance to the internees, but day-to-day life was difficult.
There were nine such camps. Among the 54,000 Jews who populated them from 1945 to early 1949 were my cousins and my wife’s uncle. The motion picture “Exodus” depicts life on Cyprus, with detainees living in corrugated tin huts and tents, their sole protection from the harsh Mediterranean sun. And there they waited, uncertain and undoubtedly anxious about their future.
Earlier this year, when B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman and I participated in the annual Conference of Presidents leadership mission, we spent a day in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. Israel enjoys excellent relations with the island nation, and we heard remarks from its president, Nicos Anastasiades, and other high ranking officials. From the presidential palace, we proceeded to the site of the old British Military Hospital, where one of the most heartwarming ceremonies I have ever witnessed took place.
We learned that, in that hospital, many of the 2,200 babies were born to Holocaust survivors on Cyprus between 1946 and early 1949. A monument to those births, a project initiated by a survivor-detainee, has been erected on the site. Speaking to us that day were the Israeli ambassador to Cyprus, Yael Ravia-Zadok, and the Cypriot defense minister, Christoforos Fokaides.
In his remarks, Fokaides noted “that hope can be found even in dark times. It is for this reason that Cyprus is, as depicted by Yad Vashem, a corner of hope, marking the start of a new beginning.” He said that local residents shared food and clothing with the detainees, and as some of those interned have noted, “the grace exhibited by local Cypriot communities toward them contributed to the start of the restoration of their shattered belief in what is good in humanity.”
During the ceremony, the Cypriot and Israeli flags fluttered in a late winter breeze, blowing under a cloudless sky. Since then, I have thought often about the births of those babies to parents who only months before had experienced the worst possible horror known to mankind. Despite their detention, they would not be denied their future. Nor would their fellow Jews in pre-state Israel, who would declare a sovereign Jewish state a short time later.
In this year, when we celebrate the realization of the Zionist dream, let’s think of all those who made it happen, and flourish, including those detained—and born—in Cyprus, on their way to the Jewish homeland.
By Cheryl Kempler
Nearly 30 years before Steven Spielberg’s cinematic masterpiece “Schindler’s List” shined a light on Oskar Schindler’s heroism, B’nai B’rith’s Traducion Lodge in Buenos Aires rescued his wife, Emilie, from certain death.
A former spy and a Nazi, Oskar Schindler engaged in bribery and deception in order to save the 1,200 Jewish men and women working in his munitions and enamelware factory close to several concentration camps in Poland. Near the end of the war, as even more Jews were murdered before the camps were liberated, he was even able to persuade those in power to move both the factory and the laborers to Czechoslovakia. Assisting her husband, Emilie Schlindler played her own part, negotiating with dangerous black market criminals to obtain massive amounts of food, medical supplies and clothes, and tending to the needs of more than 1,000 individuals in her care.
Miraculously, the couple saved many Jews and survived themselves but used all their money and possessions to do so. Supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a relief organization, and those they had kept alive in the postwar years, the couple ran a farm in Argentina, but, when it failed, Oskar left Emilie to return to Germany in 1957. In 1962, as Oskar was being honored in Israel, Emilie was alone, homeless and starving in San Vicente, near Buenos Aires.
Learning of Emilie’s situation, the German immigrants who had formed the Traducion Lodge committed to her lifelong care. The men began to provide a small monthly stipend and set up a foundation that paid for a house built for Emilie in San Vicente on land donated by a Traducion member. In 1975, further assistance came through the fundraising efforts of New York’s Joseph Popper Lodge, made of men and women who lived in Czechoslovakia before the war. Eventually, both the German and Argentine governments also granted stipends to Emilie.
Enjoying a quiet existence with her many cats and dogs, Emilie was looked after by B’nai B’rith’s volunteers, who paid her visits, cultivated her garden, fetched her groceries and took her to doctors’ appointments. The house continued to be her residence until she moved to a care facility in 2000, a year before her death at age 93, in Strausberg, Germany. Her husband died in 1974, also in Germany, and is buried in Jerusalem.
By Mark D. Olshan
Associate Executive Vice President, B’nai B’rith International
You may have heard the story of the dog playing in the front yard of his master’s home who always ran barking after the bus that passed by until he got tired and stopped running. The next day, the same thing happened. The bus would drive by and the dog would bark and run trying to catch it. And this would go on, day after day, after day…
Well, guess what? One day, he finally caught it.
Now, what in heaven’s name will he actually do with it?
During the seven years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Republicans on Capitol Hill stood united in their resolute opposition to what they relabeled, derogatorily, as “Obamacare.”
Rather than accept the fact that the program could help many Americans and try to modify and improve this admittedly massive attempt to overhaul health care, making it even more affordable and workable for the American people, the goal was to deride the ACA as singlehandedly destroying health care in America.
From the moment it was enacted more than seven years ago, congressional Republicans vowed to “repeal and replace” the ACA with something “cheaper, less bureaucratic and offer far more choices.” Yet, it was only just recently that an alternative plan was finally introduced. After the plan failed to pass, House Republicans mustered a slim majority in early May, sending the measure to the U.S. Senate where it faced an uncertain outcome.
Repeal and Replace? Yes, Mr. President, It’s Complicated.
With a Republican president and his party controlling both houses of Congress, the goal of “repeal and replace” seemed within reach. But, it has been proven more difficult, especially after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated up to 24 million Americans would lose health coverage under the Republican proposal.
Now, I don’t presume to suggest that the ACA as rolled out was perfect. There were areas that needed to be tested empirically and potentially improved. Many of us would agree that keeping our kids on our health care plans until they are 26 and better able to purchase insurance on their own are good ideas. Also, any of us with pre-existing conditions would like to have continued coverage should we move to a different insurance carrier or plan. Additionally, subsidies for persons of a certain income or facing higher age-related insurance costs are intended to guarantee acceptance into a quality insurance plan, covering an estimated 15 million to 20 million persons who would otherwise be uninsured.
But how do we pay for all this? Well, the idea was to make certain that younger, “more healthy” individuals would be enrolling, bringing in a massive infusion of dollars that would balance those older and probably more likely to require expensive health care. In essence, spread the risk around, thus keeping rates more affordable for all.
Unfortunately, many younger folks don’t think like that. I guess if you’re young and healthy, you don’t think you need to be insured because you feel that you will never need coverage. So much for that infusion of cash and young people needed to balance out the risk pool.
Obviously, this was a major sticking point in the “repeal and replace” debate. Representatives of the congressional Freedom Caucus opined that people should be responsible only for purchasing the amount and specific type of insurance they wanted. However, the suggestion that people who buy lower cost or high-deductible insurance do so because they want to, rather than because it is all they can afford, strains credulity. So much for the collective “risk pool” and understanding of how insurance actually works.
But, what about us “older” persons?
Generally, I don’t believe most people thought that seniors would be part of the discussion on “repeal and replace” because they are already covered by Medicare. While the vast majority of Americans 65 years and older have Medicare, many older persons and people concerned about aging in America have plenty at stake in any replacement system that comes to fruition.
First, for aging to look the way it does in the best brochures—with happy retirees enjoying travel, volunteer work, long walks on the beach— we need to be healthy and still have some savings to afford this lifestyle. So, from the perspective of the long game, health care coverage is essential for making “healthy aging” a reality.
When we talk about older adults, however, we aren’t magically targeting people the day they turn 65. From 50 through 64, there is a greater likelihood of becoming disabled or developing conditions like diabetes, manageable with appropriate treatment but devastating if left untreated. Health insurance for this group has always cost more—and the loss of employer coverage many suffered during the Great Recession has only heightened the problem.
For this group, the Affordable Care Act dramatically reduced the “age tax” that insurers could impose for just being older, and it eliminated exclusions from insurance for those with pre-existing conditions. Further, the law reduced or eliminated out-of-pocket charges for preventive care. The ACA also expanded Medicaid to cover lower income older adults too poor to afford insurance—even with subsidies—but not poor enough for traditional Medicaid. Many covered by the Medicaid expansion are ages of 50 to 64.
Finally, there is a great deal in the ACA for Medicare enrollees. The replacement bill eliminated cost sharing on a whole host of preventive services that help keep older adults healthy—services some skipped in the past because of cost, with expensive results both in terms of future Medicare spending, and length and quality of life. The ACA also established a timetable for closing the “doughnut hole” that makes the cost of prescriptions through Medicare prohibitive. While the “repeal and replace” measures that were floated did not specifically repeal this fix to the coverage gap, they would have eliminated the fee on manufacturers and importers of branded prescription drugs that helps pay for the benefit.
So, What Now?
As we go forward, a word of caution: The devil is always in the details. Advocates for healthy aging, as well as older adults and people who love them, should be looking very carefully not at what alternative plans claim to do but what they actually would do.
Recently, we’ve heard of proposals that claim to save the Medicaid expansion but would, in reality, limit it to a grandfathered group that would shrink every year as people cycle on and off Medicaid (because of fluctuating income) and fail to get alternative coverage, thereby disqualifying them from rejoining the expansion if their income drops.
In addition, we hear about sweeping changes to Medicaid. Millions of Americans are eligible for Medicare at age 65 and for Medicaid, because they have very low incomes and few assets. Currently, states get matching money based on how much they spend on Medicaid. Under various proposals, the federal government would cap its contributions to states, no longer responding to changing circumstances that affect actual state spending on the program. Thus, the federal government would save money by giving the states less, leaving the states to bear the burden. But the resulting reduction in the federal deficit is merely a shifting of the expense to the states, which can then reduce benefits, raise taxes or incur their own deficits to make up the difference. Even now, states struggle to fund their share of Medicaid.
And finally, as it stands today, if the ACA were to be eventually repealed, those in their fifties and sixties could see premiums rise by $2,000 to $3,000 a year or more, with increases of 20 percent to 25 percent, or higher. Under the ACA, insurers cannot charge more than three times what they charge younger persons for the same coverage. This ratio was proposed to increase to five to one—or even more.
So, does the concept of “bipartisanship” still mean anything in Washington?
Perhaps it may be time to actually see where it makes sense to work “cooperatively” and “fix” certain issues of the ACA rather than continuing to tackle “repeal and replace” without any reasonable replacement. Those on the hard right clearly want to see anything from Washington just go away. However, there are more moderates on both sides of the aisle who disagree.
Let’s try something unique in this town—building consensus, as opposed to playing politics.
Can you say, “Single payer system?”
By Michele Chabin
On Oct. 13, 2015, Micah Lakin Avni was in an important business meeting in Tel Aviv when his mother called his cellphone.
Avni’s mother relayed how terrorists had committed an attack in Armon Hanatziv, her Jerusalem neighborhood, and that she hadn’t yet heard from Avni’s father, Richard Lakin. (Avni, his son’s last name, is the Hebrew version of Lakin.)
Avni rushed to Jerusalem, calling area hospitals along the way. Finally, a nurse at Hadassah Medical Center told him his 76-year-old father was critically wounded and in surgery. Two weeks later, he succumbed to his injuries.
Lakin, a former elementary school principal in Connecticut who moved to Israel in 1984, had been repeatedly shot and stabbed on a public bus by two Hamas-affiliated men from adjoining Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. It was one of the first of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinians as young as 13 from the eastern part of Jerusalem and the West Bank starting in September 2015 through well into 2016.
Many of these attacks were allegedly fueled by lies—spread on social media and in the mosques—that Israel was planning to deny Muslims access to the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. The allegation that social media companies aren’t doing nearly enough to stop the spread of cyberterrorism and anti-Semitism—and may in fact be abetting them—has spurred Avni and others, including victims of Islamic terror attacks in Paris and Orlando, to file lawsuits against Facebook. They hope that the threat of potentially huge financial payouts will pressure Facebook and other companies to block hate messages and content.
While watching his father’s condition deteriorate, Avni said, “I sat there thinking, ‘How did this happen? What makes two 20-year-old Palestinians from middle-class families do something so horrific? What’s causing the pace and growth of terrorism so quickly around the world and in Israel?’”
During one of his marathon internet searches on various social media platforms, Avni came across a “horrific” reenactment of the attack in which his father was murdered. “That video went completely viral, and its purpose was to encourage others to carry out similar attacks,” he said. Determined to act, Avni contacted Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law center that represents terror victims and their families. Since 2000, the center has collected more than $200 million of the $2 billion various courts have awarded its clients.
Avni became one of the 20,000 petitioners who sued Facebook in a landmark Oct. 26, 2015, lawsuit filed by Shurat HaDin. That suit, known as Cohen v. Facebook, sought an injunction against the company that would require it to monitor and prevent terrorist incitement against Jews and Israelis.
As the wave of terror intensified, reaction to false rumors about access to the Al Aqsa mosque increased. Shurat HaDin sensed it would have an even stronger case against Facebook if American citizens sued the company. In July 2016, it filed a $1 billion lawsuit, Force v. Facebook, on behalf of Taylor Force, an American Christian murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel, and on behalf of Lakin and four other families of terror victims.
The suit, which the court has joined to Cohen v. Facebook, alleges that Facebook has violated the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act by “knowingly” providing material support and resources to Hamas. This support has boosted the terror group’s ability to “recruit, radicalize, instruct terrorists, raise funds, create fear and carry out attacks,” the suit alleges.
Facebook has denied the allegations and sought dismissal of the lawsuits. As this issue went to press, a hearing has been scheduled for March 1.
Facebook did not respond to repeated inquiries from B’nai B’rith Magazine related to Shurat HaDin’s two lawsuits and this article. However, in January, the company took down more than 100 pages linked to Hamas, the governing authority in the Gaza Strip that the United States government has termed a terrorist organization.
The Anti-Terrorism Act has made it possible for U.S. citizens who were victims of terror attacks, or their bereaved families, to sue governments like Libya and Iran that fund, arm and give refuge to terror groups. Four of the five victims in this instance were dual American-Israeli citizens.
But anti-terrorism suits aimed at social media are new, and it remains to be seen whether courts will hold Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube or Instagram responsible for content they disseminate but do not generate. “Facebook has zero tolerance for terrorism,” its attorney said in court filings.
In what may have been an important precedent, in August 2016, U.S. District Judge William Orrick dismissed a suit filed against Twitter by families of contractors murdered in an ISIS terror attack in Jordan.
The judge said the company could not be held responsible for aiding terrorism under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” He also cited lack of evidence that the attackers were radicalized by images they saw on Twitter.
Internet providers and social media companies insist the act absolves them, the “messengers,” of any responsibility for the content they disseminate.
Digital Hate Happens
But cyberterrorism is just one example of the many types of hate spread via social media platforms against Jews and others.
“The level of online anti-Semitism over the past few years has been more than we’ve ever seen before,” said Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Center on Extremism. “Extremists are specifically targeting various communities, including the Jewish community and Jewish journalists.”
An October 2016 report by the ADL’s Task Force on Harassment and Journalism detected a “disturbing upswing” in online anti-Semitic abuse driven in large part by “rhetoric in the 2016 presidential campaign.”
From August 2015 and July 2016, the watchdog identified 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets overall, more than 19,000 of them directed at Jewish journalists.
Sixty-eight percent of these tweets were sent from 1,600 Twitter accounts, out of 313 million existing Twitter accounts. Those 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets had 10 billion views, so they “contributed to reinforcing and normalizing anti-Semitic language—particularly racial slurs and anti-Israel statements—on a massive scale,” according to the task force.
Gabriel Weimann, a Haifa University expert in cyber-terrorism, believes it is important to distinguish between cyberterror and other forms of cyber-hate.
While cyber-shaming and cyberbullying can have extreme consequences, including suicide, he said, “very often the intent isn’t to cause physical harm.” The aim of cyberterrorism, in contrast, is 100 percent violent.
Weimann said young Palestinians who participated in the most recent wave of attacks tended to be “very active” on social media platforms and became “very radicalized” by what they saw. The videos showed who should be targeted with a knife: Israeli police, soldiers, settlers and other identifiably Jewish targets. Viewers were also instructed on the best time of day to kill and which body part is most vulnerable to attack. “There were even videos showing what kind of knife or machete to use,” Weimann said.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Shurat HaDin’s founder and the driving force behind the Facebook suits, says Facebook and other social media platforms are a terror cell’s favorite tool.
For the past few years, she alleged, “Facebook has connected those who incite to kill Jews with those who want to do so.” Terror groups, she said, “are using it to raise funds, to connect and to reach out to potential members. Facebook is letting them freely, openly, knowingly use its platform to aid and abet terrorism.”
The fact that users, not the social media companies, are funding terrorists or inciting violence “does not eliminate their responsibility,” Darshan-Leitner said.
Asked whether her plaintiffs would drop their $1 billion suit if Facebook agreed to take steps to police itself, she said, “No. Facebook must pay damages. The only thing these megacompanies know is business. If they get hit in their pocketbook, they will reconsider their actions and change them, much like the banks did,” referring to successful lawsuits filed against banks that allegedly aided and abetted terror groups.
“The only thing that moved banks to make sure the money in their possession was terror free and not transfer money to terrorists were the billion-dollar lawsuits filed against them. Money is the oxygen of terrorism,” Darshan-Leitner said.
A Call to Action
Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president and chief executive officer of B’nai B’rith, said, “There needs to be a Manhattan Project to confront the many threats that have grown out of the internet, which has provided a new way to convey hatred, terrorism and incitement.”
Mariaschin envisions a joint effort between B’nai B’rith, which has status at both the United Nations and the Organization of American States, and others committed to the fight against cyberterror and cyberhate, including anti-Semitism.
“The challenges are great, the opportunities are there, and the next step is for us to either initiate or join existing efforts,” he said.
Richard Heideman, who served as international president of B’nai B’rith from 1998 to 2002 and is a partner in the law firm Heideman, Nudelman & Kalik, believes, “Holding supporters of terror accountable in U.S. courts is an essential tool in seeking justice.” Heideman’s firm has filed several successful lawsuits on behalf of Israeli and other terror victims.
One of those suits, which sought compensation from the Libyan government for its supportive role in the 1985 hijacking of an Egypt Air flight and the targeted killings of American and Israeli passengers, “helped bring Muammar Gaddafi and Libya to reach an agreement with the U.S. in 2008 that resulted in Libya coming off the State Department’s terror list,” Heideman said. That agreement included a $1.5 billion payment to victims of Libyan state-sponsored terrorism.
The Free Speech Dilemma
Some free speech advocates believe litigating against Facebook, Twitter and others to force them into policing themselves would ultimately lead to censorship.
“If Facebook were responsible for the legality of everything you or I or others say on Facebook, it would be tremendously expensive and a great disincentive to provide an open platform,” Daphne Keller, director of Intermediary Liability at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, told Bloomberg News. “And it would give them every reason to take down too much speech, to take down perfectly legal speech to avoid risk to themselves.
Yair Rosenberg, a writer for the Jewish magazine Tablet, is one of the 10 Jewish journalists most targeted by anti-Semites on Twitter, according to the ADL. Though he believes social media companies “have an obligation to try to weed out abusive behavior and harassment on their platforms,” he does not think they should be censoring non-abusive content, no matter how repugnant.
“Besides this being impractical when it comes to millions of tweets or posts, it also seems troubling to empower giant corporations to police what constitutes an acceptable opinion on the internet,” Rosenberg said. “The best answer to hateful speech online is better counter-speech from the majority of non-hateful users—a bottom-up response, rather than top-down.”
Rosenberg said those who identify or experience online cyber-hate can report abusive accounts and work to draw attention to them in publicity campaigns, to ensure the companies are taking them seriously. “But again, I’d distinguish between abusive behavior on a social media platform and non-abusive but hateful content.”
The journalist is skeptical that lawsuits like Avni’s will succeed, “at least in America, given our First Amendment, and I don’t think they’re the best way to fight this sort of problem, either. Censoring bigotry doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it easier to ignore, until it has unignorable consequences. I’d rather that society face up to this material head-on,” Rosenberg said.
However, in a clear bid to preempt these and future lawsuits and potentially huge payouts if they lose what promise to be several court cases, on Dec. 5, 2016, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube announced they are “coming together” to curb the spread of terrorist content online.
“There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services,” they said in a joint statement. “When alerted, we take swift action against this kind of content in accordance with our respective policies.”
The companies vowed to create a shared industry database of “hashes”—unique digital “fingerprints”—“for violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images that we have removed from our services.”
By sharing this information with one another, they said that they hope to identify and remove “the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos”—content most likely to violate their respective companies’ content policies.
Following the huge backlash against Facebook for sharing fake news stories during the presidential campaign, in mid-December the company said it will try to identify such stories with the assistance of five fact-checking organizations and through reader feedback.
Lakin’s son Avni insists that if Facebook can create a system to flag fake news, it can identify and block terror-related content.
“Its algorithms advertise to you and they monitor everything going on. They target you based on that information. They block child pornography and they can do the same with terror. For years, they chose to ignore that Hamas was operating an entire campaign on Facebook,” Avni asserted. “And they make money in the process.”
The December 2016 lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter and Google by the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando also accuses the providers of “profiting from postings through advertising revenue.”
By Daniel S. Mariaschin
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, B’nai B’rith International
Just over 40 years ago, when I was working in my first job at the Boston Jewish Community Council, my portfolio included staffing the Holocaust Memorial Committee. Each fall, on the campus of Brandeis University, we’d organize, together with the local survivors’ organization, a memorial service in front of the school’s Jewish chapel.
The assemblage of survivors and their families, Jewish community leaders and students would gather around "Job," Nathan Rapoport’s stunning bronze sculpture of a Holocaust victim; candles were lit, prayers were said and a few short speeches were given.
These programs were my first direct encounters with Holocaust survivors. In 1973, we weren’t even 30 years beyond the horrors of the round-ups and deportations, the ghettoes, the camps and the killing. I recall one participant in the Brandeis commemoration, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, whose haunted eyes I can still see.
Experiencing that, in the speeches I would give in those years, down to today, I would say that there will soon come a time when there will be no people who could point to a tattoo on their arm, and say, “I was there. I saw it. I experienced the horror.” The biological clock is now ticking its final hour, and the moment, regrettably, is almost here.
Last year, we lost the most poignant voice of the witnesses, Elie Wiesel. His writing, and that of all those survivors who have written memoirs and given video testimony, will survive and be studied and serve as constant watchmen of Holocaust remembrance.
Yet, as these testimonies take their honored and vital place in libraries, classrooms and video collections, the pernicious virus of Holocaust denial is beginning to spread. The phenomenon is not new: The infamous Willis Carto, who founded the Liberty Lobby in 1955 and the Institute for Historical Review in the 1970s, was among the early purveyors of Holocaust denial. Carto once offered $50,000 to anyone who could prove that the gas chambers of Auschwitz ever existed. He attracted a cohort of other deniers, some in the United States and some in Europe, who peddled the same theme, in books and on the far-right lecture circuit.
Perhaps the best known of the deniers is the self-styled historian David Irving, who wrote admiringly of Hitler and who minimized the extent of the Holocaust. Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt included Irving as a subject in her 1994 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”
Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, for libel and lost. The judge in the case, tried in the United Kingdom, stated that Irving was indeed “a Holocaust denier; that he [was] anti-Semitic and racist and that he associate[d]with right-wing extremists who promote[d] neo-Nazism.”
The case, which took seven years to conduct, was made into a motion picture last year, “Denial,” starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Wilkinson.
The Iranian regime has been among the major promoters of Holocaust denial. Its annual Holocaust “cartoon contest” last year attracted over 40 entries, all focused on a revisionist theme. The winning entry: a cash register that featured the numbers 6,000,000 and a cash drawer marked “shoah business.” The key to open the register was marked “B’nai B’rith.”
The Arab world is home to many who write and speak of the Holocaust being exaggerated or never having happened. Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Mahal Akef speaks of “the myth of the Holocaust” coming out of World War II. In 1990, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society issued a statement speaking of the “lies concerning the gas chambers.” And, in his doctoral thesis, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, minimized the number of Jewish victims of the Shoah.
As the years pass, though, Holocaust denial has moved in from the fringe, to include university campuses, which have now been infected by this virus of hate. A resolution focusing on Holocaust remembrance and anti-Semitism, introduced at a meeting called at Toronto’s Ryerson University, produced a walkout, accompanied by a student union statement suggesting the Holocaust was a matter of interpretation, since it “evokes many views.”
Very few countries have laws against Holocaust denial, among them Germany, France and Romania, which also include prohibitions against the display of fascist symbols. In the U.S., First Amendment protections shelter those who engage in denial. In the age of the internet, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial can emanate from our shores and be broadcast globally. This issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine takes a hard look at social media and hate online, and discusses what internet service providers and search engines might do to monitor and excise the proliferation of hate we are currently witnessing.
As the time comes when there are no longer survivors to bear witness, we need to redouble our efforts to educate and to remember. There is a special obligation for our generation and the one just behind us to engage vigorously in this effort. Each of us can play a role: as students, educators, Jewish community organizations, media and public figures.
To have seen one-third of our people destroyed in a matter of six years, and then see their memory denied and erased, in our time or any time, is just unacceptable.
By Gary P. Saltzman
President, B’nai B’rith International
Attracting and cultivating the next generation of Jewish leaders is a challenge for all Jewish institutions, whether it’s drawing top-notch staff to work in salaried positions or appealing to volunteers to give their time, attention and monetary support. This is perhaps one of the biggest issues facing us at B’nai B’rith and for the broader Jewish community.
This is a recent phenomenon. When I became active in B’nai B’rith more than 40 years ago, the pool of up-and-coming leaders seemed vast. Today, it’s less about numbers and more about commitment.
A Pew Research study has found fewer younger Jews are joining synagogues and established organizations such as ours. They may take part on an event-by-event basis. But, more often than not, they don’t want to be pin-wearing, card-carrying members. And that’s not just of a Jewish group. The younger generation wants to help but just not from a membership standpoint. They are more willing to hop from one organization to another to meet their personal Tikkun Olam needs.
And we have to respect that if we are to not just sustain ourselves but to grow.
Studies find the younger generations have a very different playbook than from the one from my age group.
So where and how do we connect?
At B’nai B’rith, we are paying close attention to our Young Leadership Network as a vital platform to identify and nurture future leaders, for our own organization and beyond.
Recently, we focused on some amazing up-and-coming leaders with diverse projects and activities. In 2016, 13 young leaders traveled to Japan to participate in the Kakehashi Program, which aims to help bridge the gap between Japan and the American Jewish community. We also hosted a Young Leadership Mission to Cuba. As part of our Cuba Jewish Relief Project, these 20 and 30 year olds traveled on a B’nai B’rith humanitarian mission to Cuba, where they toured the country, met the small Jewish community and delivered much-needed goods.
Our Young Leadership Network also co-hosted Project H.O.P. E. (Help Our People Everywhere) in partnership with other Jewish groups to make Passover food packages for the Jewish elderly and needy. Young Jews joined us to pack and distribute food packages for lower-income older Jews to help them celebrate the holiday. This one-on-one connection seems to be particularly appealing to the younger generations.
Our young leaders also tell us they care about the wider world. Our Conversations Around the World Series continued with young professionals meeting with diplomats from various countries to learn about a particular country’s Jewish population, as well as its relationship with the United States and Israel. This is in addition to the myriad happy hours, hikes and Shabbat dinners that we arranged across the country.
At the same time, we also must welcome these young leaders into the broader Jewish community and make sure they know they have a voice.
Disaster relief has proven of particular interest to young leaders. From volunteering to clean up in the wake of tornadoes and hurricanes to raising funds at a soccer match for local flood victims, this age group is interested in helping others and helping their communities. In my hometown of Denver, young leaders are an integral part of our annual Leadville Jewish Cemetery cleanup efforts.
Programs and events such as these introduce younger Jews to other civic minded Jews, and also serve as an introduction to all that B’nai B’rith does to make a difference in the world.
We find that in many cases, young professionals want to help, to give back; they just need an outlet. We can be that outlet.
But we must also recognize the unique hardships of this generation. It’s less common now than in my day to find a two-parent, one-income-earning home. Today, young families rely on two incomes to make ends meet. And that’s without even considering synagogue memberships or day school tuition. There are also more single parent homes today. We must consider these challenges if we are to successfully engage this generation in the areas of Jewish identity and continuity.
At B’nai B’rith, we are mindful of the great impact of partnerships. We join with the international Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) on disaster relief and human rights. We have hosted AEPi brothers on our annual meetings in conjunction with the anti-Israel leanings of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. AEPi brothers also joined us on the Japan Young Professional trip mentioned above.
We also must be inclusive. According to a survey by Leading Edge, some two-thirds of Jewish professional staffers are women, but at the same time, women can be found in only about 30 percent of top posts in those same organizations. And each year, the Forward newspaper surveys who holds the top slots in Jewish organizations. In 2014, the most recent data year, only 12 out of the 71 major Jewish organizations surveyed have women at the helm.
We are working to identify and cultivate young professional women who may not realize the leadership possibilities and opportunities open to them. This is an area that resonates personally with me. I am proud to say that my daughter, Rebecca, has chosen to be a leader within B’nai B’rith. Her efforts chairing our Young Leadership Network earned her the prestigious Label A. Katz award, named in honor of the youngest person to become international president of B’nai B’rith. As we note in conferring the honor: “The award goes to individuals under 45 who have demonstrated outstanding service to the totality of B’nai B’rith and have worked to achieve the goals of the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership program.” As a recipient myself some time ago, I know first hand how such recognition of effort can have an impact on future engagement. Connecting with the leaders of tomorrow is a long process. But the baby boomers who are leading today’s organizations, as both staff and volunteers, are likely already looking at the exits. Now is the time to recognize, engage and cultivate tomorrow’s leaders. We have started the process. Our vigilance is required. The meaning and depth of purpose so many younger folks seek is right here. We just have to share it with them.
The responsibility is with the older generations to welcome, encourage and listen. I encourage lodges and units to reach out in their communities to invest in their own future by supporting young leadership development. Through sports teams or professional mentoring programs or disaster assistance, we can develop and cultivate the personal relationships now that lead to a more permanent commitment to B’nai B’rith and the Jewish community at large.
By Cheryl Kempler
The massive influx of new immigrants to New York’s Lower East Side presented B’nai B’rith with new challenges and opportunities. In 1900, Grand Lodge President Leo M. Levi, a young lawyer based in New York, commissioned a report about conditions in the new urban ghetto. Working with civic leaders in the area, Levi devised a plan to inaugurate a branch of B’nai B’rith there.
Contrasting with its 58th Street and Lexington Avenue offices, B’nai B’rith’s downtown headquarters was intended to be a resource for a population living in what was at the time said to be the world’s most crowded neighborhood.
B’nai B’rith’s initial $2,000 expense for the lease and renovation of its 106 Forsyth Street site was augmented by donations from prominent Jewish philanthropists, including Jacob Schiff and Felix Warburg. Opening in 1902, the facility became a hub of activity. Four lodges and a women’s auxiliary occupied the meeting rooms, while its Maimonides Library was open to the public. An employment bureau was also in operation. One of the first cultural events to take place was a talk by Isidore Singer, B’nai B’rith leader and managing editor of the 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia— the first of its kind, published between 1901 and 1906.
In 1903, a newly opened gallery displayed works by local amateurs and professionals. B’nai B’rith also requested submissions by eminent Jewish artists, including Moses Ezekiel, from whom B’nai B’rith had commissioned the allegorical statue “Religious Liberty,” honoring the nation’s centenary in 1876 and now in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History, in Philadelphia. From his studio in Rome, Ezekiel sent “Israel,” a relief dominated by the figure of a crucified man. Common to the era, the motif of the persecuted Christ was recognized as a symbol for the collective suffering of the Jewish people—Israel, but Ezekiel made the meaning clearer by incorporating the title itself into the work. The artist may have believed that the immigrants’ understanding of the sculpture, informed by their own experience, would be a visceral one.
Nonetheless, there is no available evidence that “Israel” was ever displayed; its imagery made it controversial. The sculpture has survived and is today on view as part of the permanent collection of the Cincinnati Skirball Museum at Hebrew Union College, in Cincinnati.
By Mark D. Olshan
Associate Executive Vice President, B’nai B’rith International
It is somewhat bittersweet that I have been asked to share my thoughts on our ongoing seniors’ program. While I’ve written for the magazine in the past, I’ve now been asked to focus on aging policy and offer insights from my perspective, as a baby boomer and a B’nai B’rith staff member for 33 years.
Rachel Goldberg, who served as our director of aging policy and authored this column for many years, has moved on to the AARP, or the “big” house, as we playfully refer to the country’s largest advocacy group for seniors. For more than 13 years, Rachel was my right hand in analyzing, reporting and generally trying to make sense of the myriad changing policies and programs that affect our aging population. We are grateful for the many years she spent with us. She will be missed.
But we’re not the only ones experiencing changes. As you are no doubt aware, the entire country is in the midst of a sea change, affecting the role of the federal government in our lives. For B’nai B’rith, this presents an enormous challenge, as a new administration with an announced intention of cutting back on federal programs takes office. Not the least of these is providing low-cost housing to seniors.
I began at B’nai B’rith as the director of our Senior Citizens Housing Program. Some years earlier, a group of dedicated B’nai B’rith volunteers, all experts in the building trades, petitioned the organization to allow them, under B’nai B’rith auspices, to sponsor affordable housing for low-income seniors in their communities.
Using a remarkable program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that made grants available to nonprofit sponsors, this group provided the “sweat equity” and opened the first B’nai B’rith-sponsored senior community in 1971 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Since then, the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network has grown to be the largest national Jewish sponsor of HUD-assisted housing in the country. It is currently available in 28 communities nationwide, and we’re proud to say that nightly 8,000-10,000 seniors call a B’nai B’rith sponsored property home.
Obviously, we take this commitment to these communities and to our residents seriously. That’s why we work throughout the year to provide resources, training and information to the dedicated people who manage, lead and staff these properties.
Our program exists for the benefit of the residents and their extended families. That’s why we do what we do. But, we cannot do it alone. We need the government’s help because housing costs money. And we are committed to working with the federal, state and local governments to provide the resources to make affordable housing a reality.
For 30-some years, I have led the organization’s efforts to advocate for the federal housing finance program that has allowed us to build such excellent communities, and to continue to provide them to low-income residents at a fraction of market rate rents. As an advocate, I champion not only the current residents, but the tens of thousands of people currently on waiting lists for low-income housing like those we sponsor. I speak on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of boomers who will find themselves, very shortly, in retirement, and in similar need.
The “graying of America” is not something in the far-off future. It is here now and will only grow larger. Every day, more people turn 65. B’nai B’rith, along with other nonprofit groups, had been instrumental in shaping, expanding and improving HUD’s housing program for the elderly. But, the program is no longer being funded. This has put the future in jeopardy for residents, both present and future. And that is unacceptable.
The program is fiscally troubled. Affordable housing is scarce, and we need to build more for moderate and low-income people. Affordable housing appropriate for the needs of older adults, and where services can be brought to them in a more cost-efficient way, is essential. But building housing—something we absolutely must do if we want to address the long-term affordable housing crisis in this country—is more expensive than simply subsidizing rents in existing apartments.
On average, nationwide, there are more than 10 people waiting for every low-income rental unit available. In other words, we must build, but we don’t have sufficient federal resources to do it.
The key may be a combination of vigilant advocacy and a new strategy supported by recent housing research. One thing the government is very good at is counting things: From missiles bought, to meals served, to millions taxed, the government keeps a tally. But it is not as good at counting how spending in one area can save money in another.
We often say Washington works in silos: lots of communication (and counting) up and down a federal department but very little communication between them. This poses many problems, especially when people’s needs don’t fit into one of those silos. In the 1980s, the federal government established a task force across departments, including housing and health, to work on homelessness. It turned out that many of the homeless were mentally ill, had substance abuse problems, were veterans and, in some cases, all three. So, solving the problem of homelessness really meant tackling a variety of issues.
With elderly housing, we know there is a similar crossover because supportive housing for older adults, with appropriate services, is an alternative to unnecessary nursing home placements and other pricier options. Many of our residents are able to live independently with support, but without those services, many would be unable to do so; and, with no financial resources, a nursing home placement through Medicaid would be their only alternative. A month in a nursing home costs Medicaid about $8,000. A year in a nursing home costs just under $100,000. For one person! So yes, housing is expensive, but so is health care. Combining the two, taking advantage of economies of scale, work to the long-term benefit of the resident and, at the same time, saves money on health care. So, if new research on the health care savings generated by affordable housing is taken into account, building new housing doesn’t seem so expensive. And, that’s just one way in which subsidized housing can reduce health care spending.
Housing is necessary and more affordable than other options, and it meets the needs and wants of older adults. People do not want to be in a nursing home if they have more independence with some regular service support. The bottom line is that spending money on bricks and mortar can save money by reducing the amount spent on health care. Hopefully, this will help the number crunchers in Washington to see the light.
Over the years, I haven’t had many opportunities to be on the front lines of these policy debates, but I guess it’s time to get back into the game and step up to the plate.
By Sam Seifman
“For almost 50 years, my life has been about public service,” said B’nai B’rith Senior Vice President Shel Marcus.
Marcus has always been willing to serve in various ways in the community. He has served on school boards, chambers of commerce and ran twice for state representative from his hometown of Morton Grove, Ill., a northern Chicago suburb, in 1986 and 1988. Later, he was elected village trustee of his community. He was also the president of the Northwest Suburban Congregation.
Growing up on the west side of Chicago, Marcus had a religious upbringing and remembers giving his bar mitzvah speech in both Yiddish and English.
“My grandfather was beaming,” he recalls.
His father, Sam, worked in the wine business as a salesman for Cimino’s Liquors. His mother, Sally, was a homemaker and later worked as a secretary for the State of Illinois in the industrial commission.
After attending the University of Illinois and Roosevelt University, Marcus got a position selling advertising for the Chicago Tribune. This led to a job as advertising manager for the Anvan Construction Corporation.
Eventually, in 1972, he opened up his own advertising, public relations and association management firm called Original Concepts. One of its top clients was the American Equilibration Society, an association of dental professionals. That enabled him to travel globally, to places like Japan, Holland, Greece and England.
“It gave me incredible insight into the world and into people,” Marcus said.
He married his wife, Carole, in 1961. Their marriage led to their move from Chicago to Morton Grove. She passed away 17 years ago from cancer. Marcus also has a daughter, Elisa, a son, Michael, daughter-in-law Julie and two grandchildren.
“I like to lead by example,” Marcus said, and this is especially true when he discusses his children.
When Michael was young, he wondered why his father worked so hard for B’nai B’rith without any compensation. But today, Marcus sees his son volunteering at his children’s school events and is happy to see that his own values of service rubbed off on him in such a positive way.
Even today, Marcus still serves as a B’nai B’rith senior vice president, working with active B’nai B’rith communities across the United States.
“People don’t realize our commitment to the organization; it’s totally from the heart,” Marcus said.
“My involvement in B’nai B’rith International has been an eye opener, as I learned about the issues facing the Jewish people around the world,” Marcus said. “It’s an organization where the issues do not just focus on today but tomorrow.”
Marcus has generously included B’nai B’rith as a beneficiary in his will, thus enrolling him as a member of the organization’s esteemed 1843 Society.
“Mr. Marcus is one of those people who inspires others with everything he does. He takes his precious time and energy and devotes them to causes that truly make a difference in this world, and he does this all with a contagious, friendly smile,” said Ben Simkovich, assistant director of planned giving for B’nai B’rith. “When he notified us of his intent to join The 1843 Society by designating B'nai B'rith as a beneficiary in a will, it was no surprise and perfectly aligned with his passion to make a lasting positive impact on the Jewish world, while inspiring others to do so as well.”