25 Years Without Justice: AJC’s AMIA Commemoration

Twenty-five years ago, on July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with over 600 pounds of nitrate fertilizer and explosives into the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) building – the central meeting place of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The explosion and resultant building collapse killed 85 people. The youngest was a 5 year old boy named Sebastian Barreiro, and the oldest was a 73 year old man named Faiwel “Pablo” Dyjament. An additional 300 people were injured.

Argentina has the world’s sixth largest Jewish community, numbering about 230,000. The AMIA bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack that has ever happened in Argentina. Initially, local Argentinian antisemites were suspected of planning this attack. They were found to be not guilty of any involvement.

Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos, two Argentine prosecutors, were charged with conducting an investigation into the bombing. In 2006 they presented their formal accusation that the government of Iran directed the attack, and that Hezbollah, Iran’s military proxy in Lebanon, executed it.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015, was accused of covering up Iran’s involvement in the terrorist operation. Alberto Nisman was scheduled to testify against her in court. He was murdered in his home before he had the opportunity to reveal what he had discovered. Mrs. Kirchner is scheduled to be tried for her role in the coverup and abuse of power. No suspects have ever been convicted for the planning and execution of this terrorist attack.

Philadelphia’s Latino-Jewish Coalition of the American Jewish Committee presented a special program commemorating the 25th anniversary of the AMIA bombing. The keynote address was delivered by Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer. Mr. Isaacson reflected on both his personal experiences being in Argentina two days after the bombing, and AJC’s continuing efforts to bring the alleged perpetrators, Including Iran and Hezbollah, to justice. The event concluded with a special candle-lighting ceremony where the victims’ names were read by several dignitaries, including Alicia Falkowski, Argentina’s consul in Philadelphia.

Speaking Out for the Voiceless

The Honorable Irwin Cotler was the Keynote Speaker at the American Jewish Committees’s Murray Friedman annual lecture. Murray Friedman was a passionate advocate for human rights and this program honored his memory. Professor Cotler is the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Member of Parliament, and an international human rights lawyer.

Mr. Cotler is passionate about the struggle for human rights of minorites all over the world. He has worked tirelessly for the protection of human rights internationally. His mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. Mr. Cotler discussed the human rights abuses occurring in Venezuela, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia. He decried the world’s indifference to the suffering of political prisoners and genocides of persecuted minorities.

Mr. Cotler described the laundering of the delegitimization of Israel under the guise of human rights. He described the selective use of words and images to present Israel as a human rights abusing nation that should not exist. According to Mr. Cotler, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council is populated by human rights violators. There is a culture of impunity, in which only Israel is condemned internationally, while other countries are ignored. With the passage of time, this condemnation becomes internalized, accepted, and adopted by journalists, academics, and politicians around the world.

What is to be done? Mr. Cotler believes that it is our individual and collective responsibility to speak on behalf of the voiceless. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of indifference to suffering just because it is occurring far away from us.

Photo credit: Christopher Brown.

AJC Brings Innovative High School Program to Philadelphia

By Max Buchdahl

When Ryan Berger was about to enter his sophomore year of high school, the current University of Pennsylvania freshman watched coverage of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas with nervous eyes. He was surrounded by people he cared about who had differing opinions on the war — and he wanted answers.

So Berger asked his mother, who is involved with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in New York, what he could do to learn more about the issues. He wanted to know how a high-schooler, with little expertise but a large desire to get involved, could advocate effectively on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. [Read more…]

Soviet Jewry Movement and the 30th Anniversary of Freedom Sunday

AJC is proud to partner on a special program for Young Leaders commemorating the Soviet Jewry Movement and the 30th Anniversary of Freedom Sunday.
Connie Smukler and her family risked their lives and livelihoods to protect the rights of strangers on the other side of the world.  Join us on December 7 as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union interviews the woman who made his journey to America possible.

6:00 pm  Light kosher refreshments & networking
6:30 pm  Program: Dmitry Goldenberg interview with Connie Smukler followed by Audience Q&A
7:30 pm  Access to the Museum’s new panel exhibition, Power of Protest: The Movement to Free Soviet Jews

Note: The panel exhibition is on view at the museum through January 15, 2018.

Religious Pluralism in Israel – What are the Stakes for American Jewry?

AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ invites the community to attend this timely lecture.

Featuring:
Dr. Steven Bayme, director of the William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life Department at AJC and the Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations.

Program followed by coffee and refreshments. Free and open to the public.

Please pre-register at the event website.

Canaries in the Coal Mine: French Jews Face Anti-Semitism

Simone Rodan Benzaquen - Resized and Compressed“The French Jews are the canary in the coal mine,” Simone Rodan-Benzaquen told me. Ms. Benzaquen, the director of the American Jewish Committee in Europe, related that anti-Semitism in Western Europe is a very serious problem. Europe is the laboratory for how to contend with it in 2016. If the fight against anti-Semitism fails in Europe, it will fail in the United States as well.

Anti-Semitism is a crisis for liberal democracies. The members of the extreme left (anti-Zionists), the members of the extreme right, and some parts of the Muslim community have found common cause. They all hate Jews. This crisis starts with the Jews, but it doesn’t end there.

The Centrist parties are not discussing the problems within the Muslim community due to political correctness. The Populist parties are filling the void by asking the right questions. They are addressing the issues of integration, Islamism, and how to make Islam compatible with democratic values.

What can the Centrist parties do? Ms. Benzaquen suggested several solutions. First, they must speak out clearly. They need to call Islamist extremism what it is and identify the sources of the problems.

The educational system offers an opportunity to impact young pupils and shape the future adults of France. During the past several years, students have refused to learn about the Holocaust in certain neighborhoods. Their teachers retreated because they were afraid of being attacked. France needs to invest the resources to train teachers in new methodologies so they can deal with these issues. Holocaust education is important for them because it illustrates how a society can behave and how individuals can choose to behave. It is an opportunity to teach tolerance, and to accept diversity.

France does not recognize individual communities; everyone is French. In order to counter Islamic radicalization, the authorities must reach out to the Muslim community to spot signs of radicalization. It is only then that they can begin to contend with it.

One of the most effective ways that the Islamic radicals influence and recruit young people is with social media. In France, speech is free, within limits. The French government can shut down social media sites due to incitement. The platforms used by these Islamists are based in the United States. Initially, the US-based companies did not feel that they were obligated to comply with French laws. The European Commission passed a law that requires social media companies to follow European laws in order to be available there. This has made it easier for the French authorities to shut down sites dedicated to Islamic radicalization.

The signs in Europe point to a worrisome future in the United States. The Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement on university campuses and the expression of anti-Semitism online are creating a hostile environment for Jews. We live in a globalized world. There is no escaping anti-Semitism by moving from country to country. What kind of world do we want?

Sanders Strips the Facts From Gaza

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got it very wrong on Israel and Gaza. In an interview with the editorial board of The New York Daily News, Sanders absurdly claimed that Israel killed 10,000 innocent people in the 2014 Gaza War. After the Anti-Defamation League called on Sanders to correct his misstatement, the Sanders campaign issued a statement saying that Sanders was thinking of the number wounded, not the death toll, and that Sanders “immediately accepted” the interviewer’s finding that 2,000 Palestinians were killed. The ADL welcomed Sanders’ clarification, but Shai Franklin explains why Bernie-Come-Lately does no favors for Mideast peace.

There is no evidence in the record that Sanders accepted the 2,000 figure or that he acknowledged that the death toll included over 900 militants. Sanders’ ignorance of the death toll in Gaza demonstrates that he is not ready to be president and shows that while his heart might be in the right place, his head is not in the game.

Yair Rosenberg argues that Sanders’ “mistake had nothing to do with his being anti-Israel, and everything to do with his not knowing much about foreign policy.” Throughout the interview, Sanders showed his ignorance not only of foreign policy matters, but of domestic matters as well.

The American Jewish Committee correctly noted that Sanders still needs to clarify his “stinging and unjust” accusation that Israel’s self-defensive response was “indiscriminate.”

Compare Sanders’ views on the Gaza War to Hillary Clinton’s. Watch Hillary Clinton refuse to let Jon Stewart goad her into unfairly criticizing Israel’s conduct during the Gaza War. Hillary puts the blame squarely where it belongs: on Hamas.