Pope Declares Attacks on Israel and Jews Are Anti-Semitism

Pope Francis welcomed more than 100 leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Wednesday and issued a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

At a private audience with WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in the morning, the Pontiff made it clear that outright attacks against Israel’s existence are a form of anti-Semitism:

To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.

Jews and Catholics marked the anniversary of the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which condemned anti-Semitism and completely transformed and improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

Lauder praised the Pope for this powerful message and said relations between the two faiths were stronger than they had ever been before:

Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us.

Nearly 150 delegates and observers from the World Jewish Congress Governing Board took part in the public audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. The delegates were in Rome for the Board’s annual meeting.

The pope recalled Nostra Aetate, a declaration adopted on 28 October 1965 by the Second Vatican Council:

Indifference and opposition were transformed into cooperation and benevolence. Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that.

On Tuesday, the WJC Governing Board, representing more than 100 Jewish communities around the world, held discussions which focused on the implications facing Jewish communities in light of the various conflicts in the Middle East, including the threat of jihadist terrorism.

The Governing Board reaffirmed its continued support of a two State solution and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks without preconditions as soon as possible.

The Board also called on the international community to maintain and, if necessary, expand sanctions on Iran until there is verification and international acceptance of Iran’s compliance with all the conditions of the nuclear deal.

Concerning the refugee crisis, the delegates passed a resolution calling on the international community to provide refugees with sanctuary irrespective of origin or religion, recalling the Talmudic maxim that says, “He who saves a single life saves the whole world.”

It Takes Two for Peace, President Abbas

DomeMuch of the angst between Israeli and Palestinian sides has been centered around finger pointing. It is easier to tell the other side what it must do before peace can come. The Israelis put the onus on the Palestinians, claiming Israel is ready to go. And the Palestinians do the same. Neither side makes hard decisions. Netanyahu digs his heels in. And Abbas likewise takes an intractable stand.

Many of us, who advocate for a two-state solution, speak of our ability to control only what happens on our side. We talk about the things that Israel can do to create space for peace, or even promote unilateral moves Israel can make to achieve peace. We continually call upon the Israeli government to take proactive steps regarding restarting peace talks and settlements. But realistically that is not enough.

The truth remains that peace can only come when both sides are prepared to make the difficult and courageous choices, which include concessions neither want to make. But they both are compelled to make these compromises in order to create the greater good of peace for all. Leaderships must be prepared to truly be visionaries and take bold steps.

So Mr. Abbas, your people, the world and your potential ally Israel are watching current events and your responses very closely. We hear your silence when youngsters brutally attack with knives and deliberately place themselves in harms way in a futile and desperate attempt to incite and murder. We hear your voice fanning the flames of hate with falsehoods playing on the emotions of the Muslim faithfuls regarding the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sarif/Har Habayit, and the purposeful false report of the death of a 13-year-old. Through these things, you clearly tell us where you stand as the leader of the Palestinians and on the opportunity for peace.

You appear to have turned your back on your people. You are willing to make them a nation of perpetual martyrs, permanently disenfranchised with no hope of a homeland, only the fantasy of victorious war over Israel.

It is time to make Israel your ally. She is both legitimate and permanent. So the choice is yours: a never-ending battle using your people as pawns, or the creation of a viable peace between two nations living cooperatively. Ultimately, perhaps your goal might be to someday stand like Ronald Reagan and declare it is the time for the Security Wall to come down. And in an era of peace, your Israeli counterpart will be all too likely to comply.

Israeli Family Copes With Wave of Terror

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Matzav is Hebrew for “situation,” which is what we call it during times of unrest.

Last year, during the matzav I would sing with the kids in my daycare the song by Naomi Shemer based on the saying by Rebbi Nachman from Breslov:

All the world is a very narrow bridge. But the main thing is to not be afraid.

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.

But how can one not be afraid when terrorists are running around the country killing people? I think what the song really means is to not let the fear take control.

I survived the first Gulf War with SCUD missiles landing in the backyard of my kibbutz, the first intifada, and the second intifada when every time we heard sirens my friends’ then-five-year-old child would ask, “Ima, where is the pigua?” (Pigua is Hebrew for “terror attack.”)

I have heard bombs go off. I have felt bombs go off. I have lost people I knew and cared about. I have survived these times of unrest without letting the fear take over, without locking myself inside. I kept going out and living my life as if there was no matzav, but with a bit more vigilance, always looking around.

Last week was my daughter Leora’s birthday. She has hit the double digits. Her party was based on the Israeli version of the show, “The Amazing Race.” We did “The Race for Leora”: The kids paired up and had to run around the neighborhood fulfilling different tasks to get the next clue.

Everything changed Tuesday. There was a shooting and stabbing attack in Armon HaNatziv, the next neighborhood, on a bus that I sometimes take. I know people who witnessed it and kids in the kindergarten and school right across the street from the attack. Before, all the rock throwing (more like cinder-blocks and rocks the size and weight of bowling balls and larger) and Molotov cocktails being hurdled in Armon HaNatziv seemed so far away. This attack seemed so close.

For the moment, Leora is not allowed to be outside by herself, and I do my best to find rides to and from places. I imagine once the shock of Tuesday wears off and if there is no other attack near the neighborhood, I will relax a bit.

The matzav is also causing an internal conflict. Before the second intifada Jews would regularly go into the Arab villages to do business, buy things, have a cup a coffee, and socialize with the residents. Close relationships were formed. Jews and Arabs would attend each others’ celebrations. During the second intifada, the Jewish Israelis felt betrayed by people they considered friends when they would praise the terrorist attacks and celebrate them in the villages. Since then, the relationships never recovered.

Tuesday, after the attack in the neighborhood, a parent with a child in Leora’s youth movement and I were discussing how to get the kids to and from the activity, since neither one of us wanted our kids to walk. Usually, I encourage Leora to walk, but yesterday was not a usual day. I suggested that I pick them up in a cab, since I do not have a car, but we both wanted to make sure it was a safe company. That meant no Arab driver. Many of the terrorists, as well as cab drivers, come for the neighboring village. I used the same cab company for years until I found out that they did not hire Arab drivers. I did not want to be part of the racism. But now, my main concern is my daughter’s safety. With the celebrations in the villages after each attack, I just cannot trust them with the most precious thing in my life.

The same day I went food shopping. I always bring a book to read while waiting in line. That night it was a good thing it was a very thick book, because I was in line for 50 minutes. Almost half of the registers were closed. When I asked why, I was told that the girls were afraid to come to work, or their parents were afraid to let them.

It is one of the most inexpensive store chains and known for equal hiring of minorities. Last summer the owner was called to fire his Arab workers after three Jewish teens were butchered by Arabs. He rightfully refused. But after the attack carried out by the Arab worker of a phone company and the celebrations in the villages, people feel that they cannot even trust their co-workers. On the positive side, during the troubled times, Israelis are much kinder to each other. No one pushed or shoved or yelled while waiting on line, which is very unusual for the supermarket here. People stood patiently, having conversations with other customers.

When I finally got home, I saw an e-mail from my daughter’s school. They got the water company to stop the work they are doing on the pipes across from the school. Parents and school staff were concerned because some of the workers were Arab. A few years ago the “tractorists,” Arab workers who took the tractors they were working with to run over people, made people suspicious of all Arab workers. And the cleaning company the school uses is to come in only after the kids have left. I have very mixed feelings about this. I do not want the situation to affect honest people’s livelihood. I do not want my daughter or any of the other kids to be suspicious of all Arabs. Part of me feels like I should speak up. But my need to keep my daughter safe is stronger.

Here we are again, dealing with it the best we can. What can I do? I have ordered pepper spray and signed up for a class to learn self-defense against knife attacks. I hope to God I will not need these. Meanwhile, some dark humor and chocolate get me through the matzav.

In Israel, a Nation of Laws Is Tested

ThemisViolence continues to escalate in Israel, with the knife as a weapon of choice, and fear is spreading as attacks come from seemingly out of nowhere.

The natural and proper inclination is for law enforcement to become even more vigilant in order to prevent attacks rather than only respond. But the police however must be judicious in how they protect the citizens of Israel.

Israel is a nation of laws. She prides herself on having a legal system similar to the American ideal founded on the principle of equal protection under the law. Now this system is being severely tested and Israel’s heart and soul are at risk.

If Israel permits the profiling of people and the preemptive assault on individuals outside the prescribed due process of the legal system, then it loses and the terrorists win. Israel cannot be democratic if it limits the application of law to select privileged classes, such as Jews, while others, such as Arabs, fall outside that sphere. A crackdown on terrorism cannot come at the price of the fundamental principles of Israel.

The violence and barbaric nature of these attacks on civilians (police included) are certainly not random acts. Is this a mass response to “occupation” or are these individual actors perpetrating crimes as copycats? It certainly seems to not be the latter. Even if not expressly ordered by a central control, the attacks are coordinated.

The first order is to restore calm. The second order is to cool the boiling over of the cauldron. Repression of an entire group, such as the Arabs of East Jerusalem, and sealing off of that portion of the city, will provide a temporary subduing of these attacks. A closer and deeper look at the grievances that encourage this violence as a legitimate response is required. Then deliberate steps must be taken to create a society that is fair and just.

Both the Israeli government and its citizenry must balance the need for security and safety against the fair application of law to all.  It is very tempting to let fear drive the reaction to violence. The harsh and repressive measures of which politicians speak, that deprive people of protections under the law, and penalizing suspects and whole segments of society, will not solve the problems but foment them instead.

Israel is at its best when it strives to attain the ideals upon which the state was founded as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and basic laws. Israel must hold on to these guiding principles more tightly than ever before.

I do not condone or legitimize the violence. Those that have perpetrated these attacks should be duly punished for breaking the laws of the State and of civilized society. Now it is up to the State and civilized society to solve the problems that have contributed to fomenting such deep discontent with a system of justice that speaks to everyone.

State Department’s Double Standard on Killing Civilians

Kill Team Afghanistan

Afghan farmer killed by U.S. soldiers, 2010.

The U.S. condemned Israeli missile strikes that killed civilians, saying that “this heavy-handed action does not contribute to peace.” Yet the White House rejected comparisons to U.S. attacks in Afghanistan that killed hundreds of civilians.

These statements were made by the Bush administration in 2002. And now in 2015, the U.S. once again killed civilians in Afghanistan and once again refuses to apply the same standard to Israel that it applies to itself.

So should we harshly condemn both countries for committing what in hindsight were grievous errors, or should we shrug our shoulders in both cases and say “stuff happens”?

We have to ask ourselves why two administrations as dissimilar as the Bush and Obama administrations behave similarly in these situations. Maybe both administrations were especially sensitive to the misuse of American-supplied weapons by an ally that the U.S. consistently defends in international forums, especially when it creates difficulties with our other allies. That might be the real reason, but it is still troubling, even though neither administration took any concrete action against Israel and remained supportive of Israel. We should rather be harder on ourselves and more understanding of Israel. American parents do not have to worry about rockets fired from Afghanistan hitting their kids in playgrounds. Israeli parents worry every day about rockets fired from Gaza.

(We might also ask ourselves why the Bush and Obama administrations, sometimes using identical language, consistently urge both side to refrain from violence when it is so clear to us that the Palestinians are more to blame, but that is a subject for another article.)

Oppose Iran to Stand Up for Human Rights, Sideman Says

“The 23 kiloton “Badger” explosion at the Nevada Test Site. (Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration, April 18, 1953.)

In the recent hubbub surrounding the proposed Iran nuclear deal, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the deluge of differing opinions and perspectives. On the diplomatic level, Israel has been a clear and consistent opponent to any such détente.

I had the opportunity to discuss the Iran nuclear deal with the Israeli consul general to Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman. Sideman explained Israel’s position in a short and simple manner, so it would be easy for a layperson to understand:

Do you want the most dangerous regime in the world to obtain the most dangerous weapon?

The comprehensive nuclear deal that the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, Germany, and the European Union are proposing with Iran will ultimately enable Iran to have a functioning nuclear weapon.

What does this mean for Israel? Israel takes Iran’s pronouncements very seriously. When Iran says that it wants to wipe Israel off the map, Israel believes it. Iran currently sponsors Hezbollah, militias in Iraq, and the Assad regime in Syria. Iran is making Syria and Iraq unstable. Iran has been designated by the U.S. State Department as an “active state sponsor of terrorism”, supplying arms, funds, training, and personnel to numerous known terror groups.

Like ISIL, Iran wants to impose its ideology on the world. How much more frightening will this be when the world is being threatened with a nuclear bomb, instead of the knives used by ISIL? If Iran is able to obtain the bomb, its proxies will be emboldened. Iran will swallow countries one by one. Iran does not respect the human rights of its own people. What do you think it will do with the human rights of others?

Iran is currently developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. As soon as it can arm them with nuclear heads, it can aim them at Israel; which it calls “The Little Satan”; and the U.S., which it calls “The Big Satan.”

Sideman spoke of a video that he had been shown, of a young Iranian woman accused of adultery. The video was smuggled out of Iran to show how she was stoned to death by a mob. The Iranian authorities are not pleased that this video is available for the world to see.

Sideman expressed hope that the agreement will be improved:

There is still time to delay this agreement. The U.S. can bring Iran back to the negotiating table. The U.S. can get a better deal — one that will not allow Iran to threaten the U.S. with utter destruction.

Elad Strohmayer: Philadelphia’s New “Ambassador” to Israel

Elad Oren Wedding with Mayor Nutter

Elad Strohmayer (right) and Oren Ben-Yosef (left) at their wedding with Mayor Michael Nutter (center).

Israeli Deputy Consul General Elad Strohmayer’s three year posting to Philadelphia is coming to its conclusion. As he plans his return to Israel, he says that while he needs to leave Philadelphia, Philadelphia will never leave him. “Consider me Philadelphia’s ‘ambassador’ to Israel,” he remarked.

Philadelphia has left an indelible seal upon Elad’s heart. It is where he married the love of his life, Oren Ben-Yosef. Mayor Nutter officiated at their wedding in City Hall. As he described his wedding with these words, “We were embraced by the whole community, Jewish and non-Jewish.”

Elad Strohmayer loves Philadelphia. “Philadelphia has a great relationship with Israel. It is a place that has historically been open to other cultures, and has welcomed Israeli cultural contributions,” he enthused.

Strohmayer explained about the opportunities for business collaboration between Israel and Philadelphia:

There is a synergy between Israel and Philadelphia which creates an ecosystem that allows ideas to grow. Israeli start-ups looking to expand internationally are coming to Philadelphia. The consulate and the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce are working hard to make Philadelphia attractive to Israelis. Mayor Nutter traveled to Israel to cultivate those relationships.

On August 24, Elad Strohamayer will bid Philadelphia goodbye, and Moran Birman will be welcomed as the new deputy consul general. A graduate of the Hebrew University Law School, Deputy Consul General Birman will be Israel’s newest representative in the City of Brotherly Love. Let us welcome him as warmly as we did Elad Strohmayer.

No Place for Hate Crimes in Israel

— by Yaron Sideman, Consul General Of Israel, Mid-Atlantic RegionImageProxy.mvc

Last week we witnessed two hideous attacks in Israel: The first was an arson attack on a Palestinian family, in which an 18-month old toddler was murdered. His parents and 4-year-old brother were seriously injured. There is evidence pointing to the attack having been carried out by Israeli extremists. The second was a stabbing spree at the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem that injured six people, two of them seriously, carried out by an ultra-Orthodox man with an existing criminal record.

 Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Every society has its negative elements: miscreants who seek to undermine its fundamental values and pollute it with their hateful agendas. Such criminal elements belong behind bars, but unfortunately they will succeed, on occasion, in rearing up their ugly heads and spreading mayhem and destruction. No society, even the most democratic and enlightened, is free of such “bad weeds.”

There are no other words to describe these attacks other than “despicable acts of terror.” They shocked the Israeli public and were condemned unequivocally by public figures from across the political spectrum. The murderous attack against the Palestinian family was condemned as well by the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

Such attacks are an assault on all who cherish human dignity. They are, in effect, an attack on Israel as a democratic society, as described in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, released immediately after the attack on the Dawabsha family:

This is an act of terrorism in every respect. The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are.

Netanyahu said similar things in response to the attack at the Gay Pride parade:

A despicable hate crime was committed this evening in Jerusalem. In Israel everyone, including the gay community, has the right to live in peace, and we will defend that right. I welcome the Israeli religious leadership’s condemnation of this terrible crime, and I call on all those in positions of leadership to denounce this contemptible act.

Our hearts and minds today are with the grieving Dawabsha family and with those injured at the parade attack in Jerusalem. We wish them healing and a speedy recovery.

Missiles Fired at Israel Set Back World Progress

At only 67, Israel is the most reliable, capable, predictable, democratic and unreserved ally of the U.S. This is in direct contrast to the violent, unreliable, turbulent and generally anti-U.S. Arab street.

Amb. (retired) Yoram Ettinger recently wrote about Israel’s importance to the U.S. in his blog:

Israel is the most battle-tested, cost-effective laboratory of the US defense industries, sharing with US manufacturers thousands of upgrades and modifications, enhancing the US global competitiveness, exports, research and development and employment. Israel is to the US defense industry what triple-A tenants are to shopping malls: increasing value and drawing clients – a mega-billion dollar bonanza. (April 22, 2015)

Some 280 global high tech giants (mostly from the US) have given kudos to Israel’s economy, in general, and Israel’s brain power, in particular, by establishing research and development (R&D) centers in the Startup Nation. Thus, Intel operates four R&D centers, Microsoft – 2, IBM – 3 R&D centers, etc. (June 5, 2015)

[Read more…]

Fast Track Bill Strikes Blow Against BDS Movement

bdsflyer1— by Ronald S. Lauder, president of World Jewish Congress

Yesterday, Senate approved a strong stand against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement included in the bill granting fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The BDS amendment discourages actions by potential U.S. trading partners such as the European Union that prejudice or discourage trade between the U.S. and Israel, in particular “politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel and to seek the elimination of politically motivated nontariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel.” It also seeks “the elimination of state-sponsored unsanctioned foreign boycotts against Israel or compliance with the Arab League Boycott of Israel by prospective trading partners.”

The legislation was already passed by the House of Representatives and can now be signed into law by President Obama.

The amendment by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL 6) throws a wrench in the works of the campaign to boycott Israel. It upholds the principle that those who seek to harm the Jewish state cannot subvert free global commerce for their own perverse political agenda. America’s elected representatives today made it again clear that they stand with Israel and against BDS.