B’nai B’rith International members and supporters gathered in Panama City, Panama for the 2014 B’nai B’rith Policy Forum, only the second time the forum has been held outside of the United States. Those in attendance were joined by a number of high-profile speakers, including Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, former Uruguayan President Julio Maria Sanguinetti and Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz, among others.
B’nai B’rith International also bestowed the Distinguished Humanitarian Award on Joseph E. Harari and Raymond, Morris and Sion Harari, for their outstanding commitment to B’nai B’rith International and the Jewish community in Panama and worldwide. The award was given at an Aug. 31 dinner at the Hebrew Club. It was there that Varela addressed Policy Forum attendees and the Panamanian Jewish community as a whole.
President Speaks to Panamanian Jewish Community, Honors Joseph E. Harari
A high point of this year’s Policy Forum was the Aug. 31 dinner at the Hebrew Club, where attendees dined with President Juan Carlos Varela, who was officially addressing the Panamanian Jewish community for the first time.
The president took to the podium and thanked B’nai B’rith for bringing the Policy Forum to Panama and that it was a great honor to host it, with this being only the second time the meeting has left the United States. Varela said he was impressed by the longevity of the organization and the work B’nai B’rith has done for 171 years. He conveyed respect for B’nai B’rith’s commitment to human rights and said Panamanians share B’nai B’rith’s principles of respect and tolerance. Varela also affirmed his country’s support for the State of Israel and its right to defend itself. He offered Panama’s support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the region.
Varela went on to honor Joseph E. Harari and his entire family, thanking them for their contributions to Panamanian society and the economy. The Harari family has been a strong pillar in Panamanian society for more than 100 years and are valued members of the community.
After his speech, B’nai B’rith President Allan J. Jacobs, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin and B’nai B’rith Irving Zapp Lodge President Dovi Eisenman presented the president with a special menorah, as a thank you for attending the Policy Forum.
Additionally, Joe Harari and his brothers Raymond, Morris and Sion Harari received the Distinguished Humanitarian Award. Joe is a dedicated lifelong leader of B’nai B’rith and serves as one of the most active advocates on issues of Jewish interest and humanitarian rights, appearing at the forefront of B’nai B’rith advocacy.
Former Uruguayan President Julio Maria Sanguinetti Speaks over Lunch
B’nai B’rith had the privilege of being joined by Julio Maria Sanguinetti, a former president of Uruguay. Sanguinetti discussed the issues and “evils” pervading the world today and the diametrically opposed worldviews between the West and the radical Islamist influence that is not only a force in the Middle East, but in Latin America as well. Sanguinetti spoke on globalization and the consumer and knowledge based society in which we live, and how the fundamentalist Islamic movement isn’t just a clash of ideas against the West, it’s a clash of civilizations.
Sanguinetti compared this ongoing “clash of civilizations” to the Cold War, where any friend of the United States or the Western World was an enemy of the Soviet Union. He noted we’re seeing something similar with some governments of Latin America attacking Israel and recalling their foreign delegations.
Sanguinetti reaffirmed that Western ideals of “freedom, schooling and capitalism” are worth standing up for, but said it will be difficult for societies and governments to face these new threats because people would rather ignore it and carry on with their lives.
“It’s a mix of fear, a mix of desire, not wanting to see,” Sanguinetti said. “It’s like people who don’t want to go to the doctor for fear of bad news. That happens with societies too.”
Following his speech, B’nai B’rith President Allan J. Jacobs, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin and B’nai B’rith Irving Zapp Lodge President Dovi Eisenman, along with B’nai B’rith Uruguay President Morris Segal and Special Advisor to the President Jorge Stainfeld presented Sanguinetti with an award, thanking him for his support.
Opening session at the Panama Canal
The Policy Forum kicked off in exciting fashion at the Panama Canal, the eighth wonder of the world that was concurrently celebrating its 100 anniversary. Guests were greeted by Dovi Eisenman, president of Panama’s Irving Zapp Lodge, and Marcelo Burman of Costa Rica, president of B’nai B’rith District XXIII.
The U.S. Ambassador to Panama Jonathan Farrar also welcomed Policy Forum attendees, saying he is very familiar with B’nai B’rith’s work and wished everyone a successful weekend.
B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs delivered the annual “State of the Organization” address. Jacobs highlighted the organization’s role in defending and supporting the State of Israel during its defensive incursion into Gaza.
“This defensive operation has been used as an excuse by far too many around the world to ratchet up anti-Semitism and anti-Israel animus,” Jacobs said. “We cannot surrender our vigilance in recognizing the threats to Jews and to Israel. It is our job to call attention to it and work tirelessly to stamp it out.”
Jacobs also mentioned his recent visit to Cyprus, Israel and Greece with leaders of two American-Hellenic organizations to analyze and promote the emerging strategic relationship between the three countries, as well as B’nai B’rith’s policy and tolerance advocacy work in the United States.
Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz Joins the Policy Forum from Israel
Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz joined the Policy Forum from Israel via satellite. He started off by recapping the situation in Gaza and the ceasefire that has ended the recent hostility between Israel and Hamas. Steinitz also put the Gaza situation in larger context with what is occurring around the world. He was adamant that Hamas was part of the Islamic extremist network with the likes of ISIS and Boko Haram, despite fighting against different groups of people.
“The brutal tactics are similar, and the goals are the same,” Steinitz said, with the goal being to establish a fundamentalist Muslim state.
Steinitz also reacted to the constant accusation of Israel using “disproportionate force” when dealing with Hamas. He cited the United States and United Kingdom’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as military actions that did not receive the same condemnation that Israel does. He also noted that Hamas tried to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible, firing thousands of rockets into Israel.
Before concluding, Steinitz told Policy Forum attendees, “I want to thank [B’nai B’rith] for your help, support and activities.”
“Challenges Facing Today’s Global Jewish Family”
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin tackled the issues facing Jews worldwide, including the wave of anti-Israel sentiment during the latest Gaza conflict. Mariaschin took particular aim at the media and the constant biased, one-sided reporting on the conflict and B’nai B’rith’s role in calling out those who don’t report objectively.
Mariaschin also discussed B’nai B’rith’s work advocating for the fair treatment of Israel at the United Nations and its agencies around the globe, where the Jewish state is a constant target for abuse. In particular, he mentioned the U.N. Human Rights Council’s effort that castigated Israel and essentially absolved Hamas of any responsibility. Mariaschin discussed Iran’s infiltration into Latin America as it spreads it dangerous influence. He also expressed deep concern about the South American trading block Mercosur’s (Mercado Común del Sur) special release castigating Israel for “the use of disproportionate force,” as well as the danger of Iran’s still-unchecked uranium enrichment capabilities.
B’nai B’rith hosted four experts on anti-Semitism from three continents to give Policy Forum participants an idea of how this problem is still growing globally. To start the discussion, Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and the founding Director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism Charles Asher Small gave attendees a brief historical look at anti-Semitism and how it has evolved into what we see today. He emphasized the growing influence of Islamic extremist organizations in promoting anti-Semitism.
B’nai B’rith’s Director of Latin America Affairs Eduardo Kohn gave an overview on contemporary anti-Semitism in Latin America, delving into the Mercosur issue, as many South American countries focused on the conflict in Gaza. He commended Paraguay, which stood strong against the group’s special release against Israel and lectured the other countries on how such action was improper.
B’nai B’rith Venezuela leader and journalist Sammy Eppel spoke on state-sponsored anti-Semitism in his native Venezuela, the roots of it with the late president, Hugo Chavez, how it’s perpetrated in the country and his own personal experiences dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. He urged his fellow B’nai B’rith members and supporters to show no tolerance for it and urged an active approach in combating it.
B’nai B’rith’s Deputy Permanent Representative to UNESCO and Vice President of B’nai B’rith France Stephane Teicher brought the conference up to speed on growing anti-Semitism in France. He pointed out the rash of protests at synagogues and Jewish schools, with protesters often employing the “Heil Hitler”sign. Despite these troubles he assured attendees that the government is fighting anti-Semitism, but even it is having trouble because politicians worry about elections and alienating voters.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Attacking Terror
Attorney and founder of Shurat HaDin – Israeli Law Center Nitsana Darshan-Leitner joined the Policy Forum to discuss her legal activism in fighting terrorism and collecting compensation for victims of terror. Darshan-Leitner shared with guests a number of stories in which she faced off with various terrorist groups from the Middle East, using the legal system to fight back against them.
She told attendees how her firm was able to stop a second flotilla from occurring through the use of maritime insurance, preventing boats from leaving Greece bound for the coast of Gaza.
“We are private lawyers with one goal,” Darshan-Leitner told attendees, “to bankrupt terrorism.”
Rights and Redress for Jewish Refugees
The Executive Vice President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries Stanley Urman was the final speaker at the Policy Forum, informing attendees of his organization’s work seeking rights and redress for Jewish refugees forced from their homes in Arab countries.
He said that despite there being 800,000 Jewish refugees forced from their homes during the past 65 years, there has been a diminutive focus on these refugees, especially when compared to the avalanche of resolutions and initiatives for Palestinians.
“Why now? Why is it important now, 65 years after the fact?” Urman asked. “It’s because the narrative of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is essential for the legitimacy of the Jewish state.”
Arab countries claim Israel to be illegitimate, Urman said, and they say it’s a country where white Europeans parachuted into the Middle East. This is unequivocally untrue, as Jews have been living in the Middle East for more than 2,000 years, and thus deserve the same rights and respect as any other refugee population.
Board of Governors
The B’nai B’rith Board of Governors met during the Policy Forum to conduct organizational business. The Board considered resolutions on a number of topics, including:
Monitoring terrorist funding conducted in the private and public sectors throughout the European Union and encouraging European officials to pass legislation and apply political and legal pressure to prevent Hamas and Hezbollah from raising funds in Europe.
Encouraging close ties between Israel and Latin America.
Denouncing anti-Semitic incidents throughout Latin America to the appropriate government officials, international agencies and the general public.
Reiterating the organization’s condemnation of the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in July 1994. The resolution noted that B’nai B’rith remembers the victims of this heinous act, while urging the government of Argentina to move swiftly to fulfill its international obligations and its promise to the Argentine people by repealing its pact with Iran and finding legal ways to conduct the trial—even if Iran continues to refuse to cooperate with the investigation of all aspects of the AMIA case and to bring to justice the perpetrators of this terrorist attack.
The Board of Governors also discussed its commitment to promoting and protecting human rights and religious freedom around the world.
The B’nai B’rith Board of Governors also considered a measure noting the organization stands with the State of Israel and the people of Israel as it justly defends its territory and its citizens from Hamas' rocket attacks and kidnapping attempts, as well as its use of tunnels and other means to carry out attacks against Israel.
The Board of Governors called for the release of Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds. Gross has been held in a Cuban prison for nearly five years.