Global Action in Unprecedented Times: B’nai B’rith Wraps Up Annual Leadership Forum, Virtual Sessions on anti-Semitism, U.S. Elections, Middle East Peace
(Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, 2020)--Global anti-Semitism, the impact of the U.S. elections on the Jewish community and changes in the Middle East peace landscape were the featured topics of B'nai B'rith International’s just-concluded annual Leadership Forum. The two-day event was held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite being unable to shake hands and connect with friends in person, the Leadership Forum offered in-depth conversations with important guests, including Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, who closed out the Forum in an off-the-record discussion that included the changing peace landscape in the region.
President Charles O. Kaufman kicked things off by providing an overview of B’nai B’rith’s work around the world. Kaufman spoke about public policy and the United Nations, work in Israel, advocacy on behalf of seniors and disaster and emergency relief efforts, including the distribution of supplies in various countries affected by COVID-19, from the U.S., Panama and Uruguay to Italy.
B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin hosted an informative conversation on global anti-Semitism with Ellie Cohanim, U.S. State Department deputy special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and Katharina Von Schnurbein, the European Commission coordinator on combating anti-Semitism.
Von Schnurbein spoke of the European Commission's efforts to combat anti-Semitism online. She emphasized the importance of "Pause: Take Care Before You Share," a campaign started by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to stop the spread of misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been no shortage of offensive and untrue conspiracy theories regarding Jews' and Israel's supposed role in spreading and creating the novel coronavirus. Von Schnurbein hopes A "Pause" strategy will help put an end to the falsehoods. "We help debunk conspiracy myths," she said. "We have seen, like in the terrorist attacks in Halle, the road from conspiracy myths to hate crimes on the street is very short."
Similarly, Cohanim commented on the unfortunate relationship between the online world and anti-Semitism. “The internet, sadly, has become a medium which allows millions and millions of people to be on the receiving end of these lies," she said.
In the day's second panel discussion, moderated by Eric Fusfield, B'nai B'rith International director of legislative affairs and deputy director of the Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, Lisa Lerer of The New York Times and Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal analyzed the outcomes of the 2020 U.S. elections and what changes Jews, Americans and those abroad, could expect to see from the new administration with regard to Israel.
Lerer, a political reporter, said that all indicators point to President-Elect Joe Biden pushing for a respectful relationship with Israel. "He comes from an older school of politics that see a relationship with Israel as a key part of foreign policy," she said.
Addressing a question about the need for bipartisan support for Israel, Kraushaar said that in what are now increasingly “tribal times,” the biggest movement is when someone in one party speaks out against someone in the same party who is not behaving in a responsible way.
Day two began with a spirited, extraordinary conversation hosted by B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider with guest Bassem Eid, a Jerusalem-based political analyst, human rights pioneer and expert commentator on Arab and Palestinian affairs. He offered great insight into missed and possible opportunities that exist between Israel and the Palestinians.
"One of the major tragedies of the Palestinian people is their own leadership," Eid said. "We have such old leadership who only like to talk about the past, who like only to mention history. They are not looking to the future of their people and their children."
“Homeland is the place where you can find dignity, justice and freedoms,” he continued. “This is the real homeland… Arab leaders and even Arab nations are starting to realize slowly, the influence of the State of Israel in the region.”
B’nai B’rith policy specialists discussed their respective areas of expertise, with Associate Director of the Center for Senior Services Janel Doughten describing the importance of collaboration among the different housing staffs during combined training sessions. "That is one of the great things about the training sessions,” she said. “They can come together and share best practice, learning from each other.”
Evan Carmen, legislative director for aging policy, noted the diverse issues the seniors team tackles on Capitol Hill to help older adults, including affordable housing, Social Security, Medicare and nutrition. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting as much funding for those programs as possible, he said.
Director of Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn spoke about the perils Latin America will continue to face as the coronavirus pandemic rages in the region. “The pandemic has created a serious drama,” Kohn said. “The near future for Latin America is an increasing one of poverty and with that an increase of social unrest.”
Eric Fusfield, joining again on day two, stressed the need for the U.N. to change its attitude toward Israel. “Change is in order when it comes to the ritual condemnation of Israel at the United Nations,” he said. “It’s really time for the U.N. to exercise some necessary leadership.”
Vice President of Programming Rhonda Love spoke about B’nai B’rith’s long commitment to helping others and, in particular, the victims of natural disasters. “Our strength has really been to look at what we call the vulnerable population,” she said. “It’s all about the people.”
Click here to access all of our Leadership Forum materials.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit bnaibrith.org.
(Washington, D.C., Nov. 4, 2019)--B’nai B’rith International’s 2019 Leadership Forum, which featured prominent speakers from the diplomacy, public policy and media realms and a special reception for participants at the residence of the Japanese ambassador, concluded today after three days of programming for leadership from around the world.
In his State of the Organization address, President Charles O. Kaufman spoke about the ways B’nai B’rith is active around the world in combating anti-Semitism and fighting for Israel on the world stage, as well as our work with senior housing and aiding communities after natural disasters. Kaufman also presented the President’s Award to 30 individuals who have gone beyond the call of duty to advance B’nai B’rith’s mission.
“B’nai B’rith has a long and distinguished history of leadership in taking strong stands on behalf of our people around the world. And we made our collective, global voice heard once again,” Kaufman said. “However, understanding that the pen can be mightier than the sword, I decided that a direct way to confront emerging hate was through correspondence. I took to the keyboard in protest letters regarding situations at Jewish museums in Berlin, Munich and Warsaw. I continue to follow these issues closely. Our actions were followed in the Jerusalem Post and The Economist, among other places.”
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin delivered a stirring address on Sunday morning about the global challenges of anti-Semitism. “Whether it occurs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Warsaw, Poland, or Crown Heights, Brooklyn, anti-Semitism must be confronted aggressively,” Mariaschin said. “The responsibility to do so falls squarely on all of us, together with our allies and all people of conscience. Just as the very existence of the Jewish people and the Jewish state is a product of hope and determination, we must continue to apply these qualities to the challenge at hand. The security of our community depends on it.”
Ambassador Gonzalo Koncke, chief of staff for Organization of American States Secretary General Louis Almagro (who delivered a video greeting to the Leadership Forum) and Eduardo Kohn, B’nai B’rith International’s director for Latin American affairs, participated in a discussion about the security outlook of the Western hemisphere.
Koncke emphasized the OAS’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism through the promotion of human rights and democracy. He acknowledged that the OAS has a lot of work to do, including advocating for all countries in the region to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
Three security experts participated in a panel entitled “Global Security Threats at Home and Abroad.” Patrick Daly, principal deputy director/chief operating officer, Secure Community Network; Calvin A. Shivers, deputy assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division, FBI; and Frances Townsend, executive vice president of worldwide government, legal and business affairs, MacAndrews & Forbes, Inc., president, Counter Extremism Project, and former homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush participated.
The three focused on fighting domestic and international terrorist threats in the age of the Internet and social media, noting that seemingly every week, a new platform is unveiled, and radical groups strike a balance between public posts intended to motivate and inspire and private direct messages between peers. Because terrorist manifestos are proliferated quickly online to the Internet’s echo chamber, the attack cycle is much shorter now and those who commit terrorist acts are able to telegraph their intent within hours of the action. Shivers provided insight into how the FBI investigates anti-Semitic threats in the United States: “We have to ensure that, where we have a single [anti-Semitic] act, we look through all the intelligence we have to make sure it’s not...a larger conspiracy.” On the international front, Townsend said: “The single largest state sponsor of terrorism remains Iran. We have never seen a more aggressive Iran in our lifetime.” Daly explained that there has been a shift to an equal number of domestic and international terrorist investigations, although we had been blessed with geographic boundaries as a security buffer from international terrorist threats for so long.
Director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Alan Schneider broke down the complicated Israeli elections during a luncheon presentation.
Richard Green, executive director of the Clarion Project, screened his film “Kids: Chasing Paradise.” This chilling film examines the recruitment and radicalization of terrorists around the world, many of whom are vulnerable young children. Green answered questions from the audience after the movie.
Day two of the conference concluded with a reception at the residence of the Japanese ambassador, hosted by Ambassador Shinsuke J. Sugiyama and his wife. Kaufman gifted a tzedakah box to Sugiyama, who spoke movingly about the Holocaust: “This is not about your history. This is about human history. We shall never let it happen again.”
The Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany), which represents Holocaust survivors and their descendants in negotiating for restitution and compensation, received an award for its vital six decades of work from B’nai B’rith on the conference’s final day. With the award, B’nai B’rith extended its great appreciation for the tireless efforts of the Claims Conference on behalf of Holocaust survivors worldwide.
Mariaschin moderated a panel analyzing the 2020 American elections with CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and NPR Washington Desk Correspondent Mara Liasson. They discussed topics including immigration, voter turnout, the divide between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party and Israel being used as a wedge partisan issue.
The 2019 Leadership Forum concluded with a diplomatic luncheon featuring Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States Marios Lysiotis, Ambassador of Greece to the United States Haris Lalacos and Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Israel Benjamin Krasna. The diplomats emphasized the historic and continuing ties between Greece and Cyprus and the Jewish people.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org