Harold Steinberg stares at a damaged house in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The trailer was swept up during one of the tornadoes. A woman and her two grandchildren were in the house when the tornado struck. The grandmother suffered
broken bones. The two children were shaken up, but unharmed. Image via Harold Steinberg.
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Disaster Relief Fund
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Mohammed Assaf, As UNRWA Youth Ambassador, Highlights Incitement By Palestinians And Within U.N. System; B’nai B’rith Demands His Removal
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International is demanding that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—a highly politicized arm of the world body that affords Palestinian refugees special treatment denied to all the world’s other refugees—remove Mohammed Assaf as its regional youth ambassador for “Palestine.” A musician from Gaza, popular in the Middle East and abroad, Assaf’s songs explicitly glorify violence against Israelis and incite to this violence with gory scenes of bloodshed and footage of Palestinian rioters.
Assaf, who studied in UNRWA schools and whose mother is an UNRWA school teacher, rose to stardom when he competed in and won the second season of the popular Middle Eastern singing competition “Arab Idol.” In June of 2013, he was appointed as UNRWA’s first regional youth ambassador by then Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi, who was recently elected as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He was also named a cultural ambassador, with official diplomatic status, by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He has met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, keynoting the world body’s annual commemoration of the 1947 General Assembly decision endorsing neighboring Jewish and Palestinian Arab states—a vision accepted by Israel that continues to be rejected by Palestinian and other extremists.
Assaf’s standing among Palestinians again highlights the ubiquity of vile anti-Israel incitement in Arab societies, and his “status” within UNRWA demonstrates that agency’s—and, too often, the wider U.N.’s—complicity in ignoring and even sustaining the violent hatred that remains the bedrock obstacle to Palestinian-Israeli peace.
Assaf’s work clearly illustrates his promotion of violence and his delegitimization of Israel. Some of his songs urge followers to “pelt your enemy with stones,” hail Palestinians for their posture of “either victory or martyrdom,” and explicitly deny Israel’s right to exist, asserting that “my land is from the river to the sea”—claiming even the Israeli towns of Afula, Nazareth and Um el-Fahm as Palestinian. His music videos incessantly tout mobs of young Palestinian rioters attacking Israeli forces as well as a civilian vehicle, parade gruesome photos of a child and others in shrouds, and show posters featuring leaders of the terrorist organization Hamas.
If the United Nations is interested in supporting a peaceful resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, it must deplore, not encourage, incitement to hatred and bloodshed. Mohammed Assaf perpetuates patent bigotry and rationalizes a cult of violence. UNRWA should finally be subjected to a thorough investigation of an institutional culture and mandate that result in the extremism—and elevation—of someone like Assaf. With immediate effect, he should no longer serve as a “youth ambassador” for the agency, and inflammatory voices such as his should not be welcome at the United Nations.
B’nai B’rith International Welcomes Inclusion Of Yom Kippur As A Recognized Holiday At U.N. Headquarters
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International welcomes the confirmation of Yom Kippur as a recognized holiday at the United Nations headquarters. Yesterday, member states decided on the ways in which Yom Kippur would be practically observed by the world body in New York.
In 2014, B’nai B’rith wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, urging the U.N. to include the holiday among those it officially recognizes. After many years during which no acknowledgment was afforded to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar—even in the city with the largest Jewish population in the Diaspora—staff at U.N. headquarters in New York can now choose Yom Kippur from among six holidays on which they can stay home from work.
This is in addition to nine fixed holidays on the U.N.’s official calendar. While the U.N. building will remain open on Yom Kippur, major intergovernmental meetings—including those of the high-level General Debate, which world leaders attend at the start of the new General Assembly session every September—will not be held on Yom Kippur.
This is a modest, common-sense step toward fairness for personnel at the United Nations and respect for Judaism as a major world religion. It should be emulated at the U.N.’s offices across the world, and built upon across an international system in which politics often supplant mutual respect and equality.
We strongly commend the diplomats of the United States, Israel and many other nations who made possible the progress seen yesterday.
B’nai B’rith Disconcerted Over U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Statement Blaming Israeli "Occupation" For Increasing Violent Attacks
B’nai B’rith International wrote a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemning his recent statement, read on his behalf at a conference concerning the “rights of the Palestinian people.” Ban stated that “the anger we are witnessing is bred from nearly five decades of Israeli occupation.”
In the letter B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin write: “This represents an unacceptable rationalization of terrorism and blaming of the victim. If the U.N. is sincerely interested in calming the situation on the ground, then U.N. officials need to desist from using this kind of rhetoric, which is only seen by Palestinians as global validation of their attacks against Israelis.”
Saltzman and Mariaschin declared that “Unless the U.N. makes clear that Palestinian incitement to hate and violence, not Israel, is the cause of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, we will not see any meaningful progress towards an end to this conflict.”
They closed hoping that a resolution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict would continue with face-to-face negotiations and expressed that “the cause of peace would have been better served if the remarks that were delivered in your name had insisted, instead, that the Palestinians return to the negotiating table.”
Click here to read the full letter.
B’nai B’rith International Deeply Disappointed By IAEA’s Decision To Close Its Investigation Of Past Iranian Nuclear Activity
B’nai B’rith International is deeply disappointed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors’ decision to close its investigation of illicit past Iranian activity in pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. Iran has consistently refused to provide the IAEA with significant information about its missile and weapons programs.
“This outcome sets a perilous example to other countries—that deception and continued testing of proscribed weapons is acceptable,” B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman said. “Iran’s track record has proven time and again that it follows its own set of rules.”
The IAEA reports that Iran maintained a nuclear weapons program until 2003, and continued working on some aspects of it until 2009. In closing its investigation, the IAEA reported that Iran has not intensified its activities pertaining to this program. Yet, in October, only three months after signing the P5+1 nuclear agreement, Iran test-fired a missile capable of mounting a nuclear warhead. This was in direct violation of a resolution of the United Nations Security Council.
“Closing this investigation raises serious questions and grave concerns because of Iran’s proven refusal to be honest and transparent about its nuclear activity and goals,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “Tehran has no credibility; its missile-launch has again violated bedrock international obligations, and there is no doubt that the Iranian regime will continue to skirt international agreements in the future.”
B’nai B’rith International Commends Argentine President Macri’s Decision To Void The AMIA Bombing Pact With Iran
B’nai B’rith International welcomes Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s decision to support the federal court’s verdict declaring the Argentina-Iran memorandum of understanding unconstitutional. The 2013 memorandum was intended to “jointly investigate” the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA). Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner originally appealed the federal court’s ruling. During his campaign, Macri supported the idea of abolishing the deal; he was sworn into office last week.
“Voiding this deal will send a strong message that the pursuit of justice knows no bounds,” B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman said. “The victims and their families deserve answers.”
The deal allowed Iranian officials inclusive access to the investigation, and mandated that suspects could only be questioned in Tehran. To expect that Iran, with a 36-year record of hypocrisy and obfuscation, would comply with the terms of such a pact was ludicrous. B’nai B’rith has long-expressed the belief that Iran’s “search for justice” is a sham, and strongly opposed the agreement.
Iran is widely recognized to be behind the 1994 terrorist attack in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded 300. Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who died under suspicious circumstances earlier this year, believed Iran was directly connected to the AMIA bombing. Nisman wrote a report uncovering new evidence revealing Iran’s and Hezbollah’s involvement in the terrorist attacks.
“The decision to void the memorandum will be a major step forward in addressing the injustice inflicted on the victims and the people of Argentina. Iran, and its proxy, Hezbollah, should be held accountable, so the families and victims of this terrorist attack can find peace, once and for all,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said.
More than two decades have gone by without answers. In the past Interpol has issued arrest warrants for those in charge of the terrorist attack, but, so far, none have been made. B’nai B’rith hopes that this ruling will allow the investigation to go forward, and bring the terrorists to justice.
B’nai B’rith Sees Welcome Contributions, Also Challenges, In New Vatican Document On Relations With Jews
Text Reaffirms Avoidance of Targeting Jews for Conversion
The Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews today issued a new document entitled, “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable.” The document reinforces key pillars of the modern Catholic-Jewish relationship, affirming that the Catholic Church disapproves of targeted efforts to convert Jews.
The new document also emphasizes the need for “combating all manifestations of racial discrimination against Jews and all forms of anti-Semitism,” both in light of history’s tragic demonstration of “where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead” and the “Jewish roots of Christianity” itself.
At the same time, while “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable” reiterates rejection of the notion that “Jews are excluded from God’s salvation” because of their inability to believe in the divinity of Jesus, it rebuffs as incompatible with Christian faith a doctrine that would see equal legitimacy in a “Jewish path without Christ” alongside Christianity.
Although it is for Catholics to determine their own theology, this position—undergirded by an implicit expectation of Jewish conversion that surfaced in Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 reauthorization of a version of a Good Friday prayer for Jews to “acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all”—is a source of remaining discomfort in an otherwise blossoming friendship.
“The Gifts and the Calling of God” does not include reference to the centrality of Israel in Jewish life, though there have been prior Vatican acknowledgements—including privately by Pope Francis himself—that anti-Zionism or anti-Israeli violence constitute forms of anti-Semitism.
B’nai B’rith International welcomes the text’s call for Catholic educational institutions to integrate in their curricula relevant church documents including “Nostra aetate,” the 1965 Second Vatican Council declaration that helped remake Catholic-Jewish ties, as well as its encouraging of further partnership to concretely promote “justice, peace, conservation of creation, and reconciliation.”
Through dialogue, practical partnership and humanitarian services alike, B’nai B’rith has long been exceptionally dedicated to advancing the Catholic-Jewish bond worldwide. B’nai B’rith leaders met privately with Pope Francis and other senior church officials most recently in June, at the Vatican.
Professor’s Acceptance of BDS Movement Part of a Deeply Troubling Trend
B’nai B’rith is outraged that a university professor refused to help a 13-year-old Israeli student with a research project, hiding behind the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for her decision.
Shachar Rabinovitch, 13, wrote to Professor Marsha Levine, a British-American researcher, requesting information about early horse species, Levine’s area of expertise. According to the girl’s mother, Levine replied: “I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine.”
The goal of BDS is to isolate Israel to the point of dissolution.
This BDS episode illustrates the senselessness and degree to which BDS followers will go to follow the Palestinian narrative. Levine’s refusal to help a student demonstrates an extreme absurdity, with its total lack of proportion in its response to a student.
B’nai B’rith has long fought the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and its myopic focus on Israel, even as real human rights abusers, like Iran and Syria, escape unscathed.
See where B'nai B'rith International stands on the issues.