B’nai B’rith International commends the Senate for passing legislation that would allow for increased sanctions against Iran in an effort to stop Tehran’s quest to develop nuclear weapons.Under the measure (S.2799), businesses that provide Iran with gasoline, or help Iran build up its refineries, would not have access to financial help from U.S. banks. Oil-rich Iran imports about 40 percent of its gasoline for domestic use, so denying access to imported refined petroleum could severely drain Iran’s economy. And foreign companies that do business with Iran’s energy industry would be barred from selling goods to the U.S. government.
“This vote is as important for the actual sanctions it would impose as it is for the message it sends,” said B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick. “Tough sanctions are a vital step in efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
“We cannot allow a world leader who has vowed to wipe Israel off the map to have nuclear weapons,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “Harsh, enforceable sanctions, such as those passed by the Senate, are a critical tool to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The House last month passed similar legislation and we urge the Senate and the House to work quickly to reconcile their separate bills.
B’nai B’rith International was encouraged to see President Obama address healthcare reform and the global threat from Iran during his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, which focused heavily on the economy and jobs. Reforming our healthcare system and addressing the growing threat from Iran are two key issues for B’nai B’rith.The president also signaled his priorities this year on energy, immigration, and human rights—all of which are also on the B’nai B’rith agenda.
The president linked job growth to clean energy alternatives. We believe this pairing could lead to energy independence. Reducing dependence on foreign oil is fundamental to America’s national security and B’nai B’rith was glad to hear the president address energy matters. We encourage the United States to adopt specific programs that would limit our reliance on oil from nations that may have unsavory anti-American agendas.
The president urged Congress to keep working to reform the health insurance system, something B’nai B’rith has long advocated. Comprehensive healthcare reform suffered a major setback as the House and Senate seemingly have reached an impasse in merging their individual versions of healthcare reform.
With our aging population, ensuring access to healthcare for all Americans takes on greater importance. Healthy aging begins with access to affordable healthcare for all. “Growing old and growing poor, already a dangerous and all too common combination, could become a frightening reality for more older Americans without health insurance reform,” B’nai B’rith President Dennis W. Glick said. “The president’s continuing commitment to pursuing a healthcare agreement is commendable, and we urge the president and Congress to move expeditiously to find areas of compromise that can result in meaningful comprehensive reform that adheres to the principles on healthcare reform we adopted many months ago.”
The president noted the threat Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons poses to the world. And he did say that Iran will face “consequences” for its unrelenting pursuit of nuclear weapons and its defiance of the international community. But he did not explain what that punishment would be, or go far enough in outlining what measures the United States will take to ensure a nuclear-free Iran. Tehran, the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror, has long hidden from the world its vast stockpiles of uranium, and has repeatedly failed to comply with international inspectors.
“Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is the world’s number one security threat,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. The administration’s own deadline for Iran to comply with international norms expired a month ago. “While the president did not speak with specificity, we expect the administration will now move expeditiously at the United Nations Security Council, and elsewhere, to impose sanctions.”
Immigration reform got an important mention in the president’s speech. Obama noted we are a nation of immigrants and said he wants to ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our society. B’nai B’rith, an organization formed 166 years ago to assist new American immigrants, supports immigration reform.
Though he did not mention Darfur specifically, Obama talked about human rights and said America must stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. The genocide in Darfur falls in that category. The staggering brutality of the conflict has left at least 300,000 dead and up to 3 million displaced. Neighboring nations are also facing humanitarian crises as Sudanese refugees seek safety across borders. This massive humanitarian crisis has not abated since it began in 2003. In the fall, the White House committed to enforcing sanctions against the Sudanese government, along with incentives for meeting international demands. It is imperative the international community ensures free and fair elections in April. Without a clean election, the 2005 peace accord has no chance of success.
It was promising that the president noted the importance of enhancing trade relations with key hemispheric allies such as Colombia and Panama.
B’nai B’rith will analyze the president’s plans as they come into sharper focus in the coming days and weeks, and will work to ensure action on our priorities.
As part of its annual commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, B’nai B’rith International convened Jewish and Christian leaders to reflect on the Holocaust in a forum at U.N. headquarters in New York City on Jan. 27, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin; Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America; the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; and Bishop Gerald T. Walsh, rector and president of St. Joseph’s Seminary addressed members of the Jewish community, including several Holocaust survivors, clergy and interreligious professionals, and foreign diplomats on the past, present, and future of interreligious relations.
Following opening remarks by Allan J. Jacobs, B’nai B’rith chairman of the executive, greetings were offered by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, papal nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, and Ambassador Martin Palouš of the Czech Republic.
Demetrios, who chairs the conference of leading Orthodox bishops in America, gave a personal account of his experience during World War II in Nazi-occupied Greece. A native of Thessaloniki, Demetrios vividly recalled the atrocities inflicted upon his Jewish neighbors, who famously represented a significant part of the local population for centuries. Demetrios stressed the importance of forming strong interreligious bonds in order to assure that such horrors never take place again.
“In ecumenical meetings and at other occasions, we talk about coexistence via tolerance,” Demetrios said. “Not enough. Tolerance is a minimum… Tolerance is something that might not last under heavy pressures. So what we need is a coexistence beyond tolerance, living together.”
In his statement, Kinnamon—a Protestant clergyman leading an ecumenical body that encompasses churches with a combined membership of 45 million Americans—related his first substantial education on the inhumanities of the Holocaust. In a description of his voyage through Israel as a student alongside a Jewish companion, Kinnamon emphasized the importance of viewing both the past and present through the eyes of others and the need for Christians to stand with Jews in opposition to intolerance.
“Anti-Semitism has been on the increase in Europe over the past decade,” Kinnamon said. “It won’t do simply to chalk this up to frustrations over the continuing conflict in the Middle East, because whatever Christian concerns may be concerning particular Israeli policies, Christians must speak out loudly and stand firmly against anti-Semitism whenever and wherever it is experienced.”
Walsh, a member of the committee for Catholic-Jewish dialogue of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, emphasized the importance of valuing the lessons of the past and teaching them to younger generations, adding that ignorance to learn from previous errors puts the future in jeopardy.
“The Catholic church wants all Catholics, and indeed all people everywhere, to learn from the past,” Walsh said. “Our hope is that the lessons of the past will help Catholics and Jews come to the realization of those universal goals that are found in their common roots.”
Mariaschin capped the day’s conversation with a reminder that an anti-Semitic threat still looms today, including attacks on Israel at the United Nations and Holocaust deniers like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“The Holocaust has fundamentally impacted not just those who experienced the horror first hand, but the next generation, and the next,” Mariaschin said. “But some people of power and prominence, including at least one state leader, the president of Iran…has managed to at once doubt and mock the truth of the Holocaust while calling Israel illegitimate and solely a product of the Holocaust rather than the focal point of millennia of Jewish prayer and civilization.”
At the United Nations since its founding conference in San Francisco, B’nai B’rith International is the only major Jewish organization with an office exclusively dedicated to United Nations affairs and an active, accredited presence at U.N. institutions around the globe.
B’nai B’rith’s commemoration event at the United Nations coincided with several other remembrance ceremonies taking place around the world, also orchestrated by the organization.
In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attended a commemoration ceremony at the Recife synagogue, the oldest Jewish house of worship in the Western Hemisphere.
The Argentine ministries of foreign affairs, education, justice, security, and human rights, as well as the Human Rights Secretariat, also partnered with B’nai B’rith International to host an event to commemorate the Holocaust in Buenos Aires. Additionally, at the city’s U.N. Plaza, six trees will be planted as a tribute to the six-million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
The U.N. event was organized by B’nai B’rith office of intercommunal affairs and U.N. affairs Director David Michaels.
Israel has been admitted to a sub-group of member states at the United Nations in Geneva made up of Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, along with Norway, Switzerland and eight other democratic nations. The group is known as JUSCANZ. B’nai B’rith has issued the following statement:In a significant and long-overdue move by the bloc’s members at the United Nations in Geneva, Israel has received membership in the JUSCANZ group.
Though delayed for too long, the admittance to the group brings Israel closer to a semblance of parity at the world body. Nearly a decade ago, Israel was allowed to join a regional group on a limited basis. The country became a member of the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) at the U.N.’s New York headquarters in 2000, though it continues to be denied this inclusion in WEOG or any other full-regional group in Geneva.
JUSCANZ is a sub-group of WEOG. The exclusion of Israel from comprehensive membership in a full regional group has meant that the Jewish state is unable to participate fully in U.N. activities and have equal opportunity to assume particular U.N. posts.
B’nai B’rith International is hopeful that Israel’s JUSCANZ membership will lead to consistent inclusion for Israel—as a likeminded democracy seeking to maximally contribute to the international community—in WEOG in all its settings. Israel’s new position is a good start to counter the systemic anti-Israel animus that has long characterized the United Nations.
The Auschwitz concentration camp, liberated 65 years ago this week, is in desperate need of funding to preserve it as a potent reminder of the most extreme example of hatred and intolerance. B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:B’nai B’rith International is urging President Obama to include a $5 million designation in the upcoming budget for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Perpetual Fund to help restore and maintain the memorial facilities at the site of what is the most notorious Nazi concentration camp. In December, Germany announced it would commit about $85 million to the fund.
In 2009, B’nai B’rith wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, explaining the vital need to preserve this symbol of oppression and prejudice. Auschwitz must be restored to bear witness to Nazi tyranny and genocide. The memorial has proven a vital education site for millions of visitors.
The camp was constructed to be a housing and execution facility. Because of the lack of foundations and winter-proofing in many of the buildings, more than half of them are closed because they are unsafe for public entry. According to estimates by the museum, none of the buildings will be open for public visits within the next 10 or 20 years if plans for preservation are not implemented.
Current conservation and preservation needs are estimated to be in excess of $87 million. Under the plan of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Perpetual Fund, that sum will be collected from private and national donors and will be invested through a transparent process. Given the estimated annual accruement from that investment, the museum intends to use the interest gained to pay for regular conservation and maintenance efforts rather than requesting foreign aid regularly. Instead of repeatedly raising funds, under this system the museum will have the necessary revenue to maintain the facilities. More than 17 nations have agreed so far to contribute to the restoration. The United States must join this effort.
After Jewish Religious Item Prompts Flight Scare, B’nai B’rith Urges Enhanced Training of Air Personnel
Following the incident on US Airways flight 3709 from New York to Louisville on Jan. 21—which made an unscheduled landing when a flight attendant was alarmed by the Jewish religious article of a young passenger—B’nai B’rith International is urging aviation officials to more systematically equip both airline crew and airport security personnel with awareness of such common ritual objects.Beyond well-recognized objects like head coverings or prayer shawls, observant Jews employ phylacteries, better known as “t’fillin” in Hebrew, during particular prayer services. T’fillin are small sealed black boxes containing parchment with biblical verses professing devotion to God, which are attached to leather straps wrapped to one’s arm and worn on one’s head during most weekday morning prayers. Many Jews travel with such sacred articles and make quiet use of them at designated times without impacting or disturbing others.
While continuing to very strongly endorse rigorous security procedures to ensure the safety of travelers, B’nai B’rith believes that lessons should be learned from this incident. More uniform familiarity with important religious objects, their normative use and their appropriate handling, will lead to better understanding and would avoid misapprehensions in the future.
“We fully comprehend that this was a misunderstanding and that the passengers on US Airways flight 3709 were acting based on a lack of familiarity with Jewish customs,” said B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick. “We want to teach others about Jewish practices so that this sort of confusion will not happen again.”
“The world is justifiably concerned about attacks on airlines right now and we want to help build a system through which threats can be accurately identified,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “Religious practices and objects may seem unfamiliar to those outside of the religion. Through education, we can avoid future confusion.”
B’nai B’rith is communicating its appeal to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, and the International Civil Aviation Organization, offering assistance in educating trainees on Jewish religious items and practices.
B’nai B’rith International welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s overtures to the Jewish community during his visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome on Jan. 17. But the pope’s apparent desire to avoid direct discussion of the most contentious issues straining Catholic-Jewish relations, such as beatification of World War II-era Pope Pius XII, was unfortunate.Honorary President Tommy Baer of Richmond, Va., led a B’nai B’rith delegation including Senior Vice Presidents Bruce Pascal of North Potomac, Md., and Yves-Victor Kamami of Paris, along with B’nai B’rith Rome President Sandro Di Castro, as guests at the synagogue.
The visit, the pope’s third to a synagogue since 2005, and coming soon after his 2009 pilgrimage to Israel, takes place at a critical time in Catholic-Jewish relations and helps to maintain a bond greatly strengthened since the mid-1960s.
Expressing the “esteem and affection” that he, “as well as the entire Catholic church, have towards this community and all Jewish communities around the world,” Benedict condemned “the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism,” and invoked “the singular and deeply disturbing drama of the Shoah.”
However, efforts to concretely address a series of foremost Jewish concerns were absent. Immediately after the pope’s address, Baer said: “While we acknowledge the historic importance of this visit and welcome the pope’s calls for mutual understanding and respect, we remain deeply disappointed that the pope chose not to address the question of the beatification of Pope Pius XII. If he did not want to publicly discuss it in his synagogue visit, he could have taken the opportunity to do so in the more private gathering with Jewish community leaders. It was obvious that he wanted to avoid the controversy.”
In principle, B’nai B’rith recognizes Catholic conferral of sainthood as an internal process of the church. At the same time, Baer noted: “We continue to believe that beatification is premature until the record of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican during World War II can be examined. The continued failure of the Vatican to grant such access to the archives makes this impossible. One can only assume that if the record proved that Pius had discreetly saved the lives of Jews, the church would want to share that evidence.”
Baer, Pascal, and Kamami also attended the private gathering the pope held with about 30 Jewish leaders at the conclusion of the formal event.
Baer, who was born in Germany and came to the United States as a child, said, “If I had been able to speak to the pope, I would have done so in German, and asked him to open the Vatican archives.”
The beatification issue is only the most recent rift in the Catholic-Jewish engagement, which was already tense after the pope’s decision last year to overturn the excommunication of four bishops, including Richard Williamson, who publicly asserted that gas chambers were not utilized during the Holocaust and that no more than 300,000 Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany. The pope later affirmed Vatican rejection of Holocaust-denial.
Meanwhile, in 2007, the pope’s decision to revive use of the Latin-language Tridentine Mass, as an alternative to the modern liturgy embraced over recent decades, greatly alarmed Jews and Catholics committed to continued interreligious reconciliation. The Latin liturgy includes a Good Friday prayer “for the conversion of the Jews.”
Riccardo Pacifici, the president of Rome’s Jewish community and a B’nai B’rith member, preceded the pope’s remarks at the synagogue with a call for a moment of silence for the victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. He requested international help, and noted that B’nai B’rith is undertaking a worldwide effort to assist the victims.
B’nai B’rith International's Disaster Relief fund continues to help the victims of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. The fund supports an emergency response team from IsraAID (The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid). B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider will join the relief team in Haiti.IsraAID, of which B’nai B’rith is a founding member, provides an international Jewish response to disaster and emergency situations. IsraAID team member expertise in recovery, medical assistance, and structural engineering will be in demand in Haiti. The team will partner with local agencies to help the community at large, regardless of religion.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake—the worst in 200 years—trapped countless people in leveled buildings in the impoverished nation, which is still reeling from a series of hurricanes in 2008.
“The massive scale of the earthquake will require an international support network,” said B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick. “Our ongoing partnership with IsraAID means our help can go a lot further. We extend our deepest sympathies to the people of Haiti as they face the consequences of another natural disaster.”
“A disaster of this scale demonstrates how vital it is for nations to band together,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “We view disaster relief as vital to our humanitarian mission and hope we can offer some relief to the people of Haiti.”
B’nai B’rith has been engaged in disaster relief since 1865. The BBI Disaster Relief Fund has provided aid to populations affected by natural and man-made catastrophes around the world.
Donations can be made to: B’nai B’rith International Disaster Relief Fund
2020 K Street, NW
Washington, D.C., 20006
Or donate on-line at a secure website here. In the comment section of the donation page, fill in “Haiti.”
In response to an arson attack at the Hania Synagogue in Crete, Greece, on Jan. 5, B’nai B’rith International has sent a letter to the congregation’s president and general secretary conveying sympathy and unity.“This act of anti-Semitic violence has shocked and angered the Jewish community worldwide,” President Dennis W. Glick and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said in the letter. “Please be assured that you have our sincerest condolences and our hopes for the safety and well-being of Greek Jewry in the wake of this atrocity.”
This most recent act of anti-Semitism follows a troubling pattern emerging in the country. Last June, a Jewish cemetery in Ioannina was desecrated; the culprits still have not been found.
“It greatly disheartens us to know that today many Jews are still imperiled,” Glick and Mariaschin wrote. “And when Jewish individuals and institutions are targeted for assault, Jews everywhere share a sense of outrage and deep concern for the welfare of their brothers and sisters.”
To read the letter in its entirety, click here.
On the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between north and south Sudan, B’nai B’rith International is urging the United States to play a more active role in ensuring implementation of the accord and in facilitating free and fair Sudanese elections in April.In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin wrote: “Last year B’nai B’rith welcomed the U.S. administration’s commitment to enforcing sanctions against the Sudanese government, combined with incentives for compliance with international demands, as a positive step toward ending the human rights crisis. A balance of pressures and incentives, along with the sustained attention of the U.S. administration at the highest levels, is needed to end the violence and permit implementation of the 2005 peace accord. We further support the administration’s pledge to furnish incentives to the Sudanese regime only upon witnessing verifiable progress, given the latter’s long record of broken promises.”
We have an obligation to speak out against genocide. Since 2003, B’nai B’rith has been in efforts to end the crisis. It is impossible to know exact numbers, but most experts agree that at least 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began seven years ago, and about a million displaced as they fled to avoid the brutality and seek safe haven, often in squalid refugee camps in neighboring nations.
In the letter, Glick and Mariaschin further noted: “As the fifth anniversary of the CPA nears, continued U.S. leadership is needed not only to facilitate concurrence on outstanding CPA issues, but to build the multilateral coalition necessary to foster such agreement and enforce compliance by both sides with their longstanding commitments.”
It is imperative that U.S. involvement on this issue comes from the highest levels. Therefore, B’nai B’rith is asking President Obama and Clinton to personally lead U.S. peace efforts regarding Sudan.
Follow this link to read the full letter:http://www.bnaibrith.org/ClintonLetter.cfm.