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.”
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.