Happy Independence Day

We celebrate Independence Day because we are blessed to live in a land where liberty and equality are the founding principles. As a Jew, I am profoundly grateful to be a citizen of a country where I am free and safe from the hatred that has sadly been a part of Jewish history. As Americans, we need to remain vigilant, protecting and expanding the rights of all citizens. We need to understand that our greatness comes from all of our people and from our core beliefs. [Read more…]

Women’s March on Washington

This event is intended to send a loud, clear message to the new administration that women’s rights are human rights. All defenders of human rights are urged to participate, as we stand together in defense of all people who are marginalized in our society.

If you’re planning to participate, please let the organizers know by registering here and completing this march questionnaire. For more information and to stay up-to-date, visit the official march website and official march Facebook page.

Which Presidential Candidate Best Reflects Jewish Values?

Repairing the World.

Repairing the World.

By William Madway & Jill Zipin
Many experts continue to see Pennsylvania as one of the key battleground states in the 2016 race for The White House (see “Inside 4 battleground states that could determine the 2016 election“). Although the Jewish community in Pennsylvania is small — 3.35% of the state’s population as of 2015, according to the Jewish Virtual Library — we very well could determine the outcome of the Presidential Election in the Commonwealth. And as Pennsylvania goes, so might go the country.
[Read more…]

Civil Rights Arrive in Pennsylvania: State Rep. Brian Sims Interview

Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D., Philadelphia), the first openly gay candidate to win an election to the state General Assembly, made headlines last week with the passage of a resolution for recognizing the Human Rights Day.

In an exclusive interview with the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, he shared his plans for the next few years, a surprising Jewish connection, and a few thoughts on the House speaker, Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler County).

Q: Where did the idea for the resolution on the Human Rights Day come from?

I had known of the Day for 15 years, since I heard of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Last month, after the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, invited me to speak on advocating for civil rights at local events in honor of the Day, I decided to propose a resolution for recognizing this day in Pennsylvania.

Q: Was it realizing that you were gay that brought you to the civil rights area?

I have first learned of civil rights through feminism. Both of my parents were lieutenant colonels in the Army, so I grew up with a very strong woman and two very equal parents.

Being part of the gay community was one of the reasons that I ran for the House. Pennsylvania has no LGBT rights laws at all, so a lot needs to be done. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the State Senate support such legislations.

Q: Has your being gay hurt you in ways that legislation could have prevented?

Not very often. To my fortune, I live in a city with many laws that protect my rights. In other areas of Pennsylvania, you can get fired from your job or kicked out of your house, and even get bullied just for being gay.

Q: Were you surprised last June, when the speaker of the House, Daryl Metcalfe, did not let you speak on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that it would be “an open rebellion against God’s law”?

Yes. I knew that he did not like me personally, and did not have respect for the House and its members, but I was surprised by the reason for which he did not let me speak.

Anyone can believe in anything they want, and have any motivation for their activism, but “God’s law” has no place in the Government and its voting.

Q: How has being elected changed your lifestyle?

I have always been very busy: Before being elected, I was the president of Equality Pennsylvania, and active in five more civil rights organizations. Now I am just as busy, but have a whole team that helps me.

In the little spare time that I have, I carry lectures, to teach the public on subjects such as saving money and public safety.

Q: What are your plans for the elections to the General Assembly next June?

I will run for the same office again. I need several more years to take care of all of the issues in my district (the 182nd House District, Center City).

Q: Do you have any connection with the local Jewish community?

When I worked as a lawyer, each and every one of my bosses was Jewish. They all understood what it meant to stand up and be an advocate for your community, so working as a lawyer had been connecting me with the Jewish community as well as with the lawyer community.

Last October, politicians from Pennsylvania held a diplomatic trip to Israel, but I could not go. A similar trip is planned for next March, and I would like to join it.

Milestone Victory Against Bigotry

— by Hillel Neuer

After decades of being excluded from all of the UN Human Rights Council’s regional groups in Geneva, Israel will be formally invited to join the Western group on Monday.  This is a historic, milestone victory for the cause of equality, a memorable step forward in the long struggle ahead against injustice at the United Nations. UN Watch salutes Israel on its diplomatic achievement, and expresses special gratitude to Canada, the UK, France, Germany and the US for playing a key role in ending one form of bias within the pattern and practice of anti-Israel prejudice at the UN.

More after the jump.
For two decades UN Watch fought publicly and privately to overturn the blatantly discriminatory practice whereby the Jewish state was segregated -— in direct violation of the UN Charter’s equality guarantee — into a category of its own, the only nation excluded from a regional group. It’s gratifying to see this victory today.  Contrary to several news reports, admission to WEOG in Geneva is unrelated to membership on the 47-nation council. And regrettably it will not detract from the Arab states’ continued ability to target Israel in resolutions, urgent sessions and a special agenda item.  Rather, WEOG admission will allow Israel to participate together with all 192 other UN member states in receiving regular briefings, and to have its small say in the selection of council investigators, known as special rapporteurs. More than anything, what regional group admission means for Israel is a sign of equal treatment — the removal of a symbol of bigotry and of an ugly stain upon the reputation of the UN.

Hillel Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch.  UN Watch is a Geneva-based human rights organization founded in 1993 to monitor UN compliance with the principles of its Charter.

Administration Continues Fighting Anti-Israel Bias in UN Bodies

— Mark Tones, Acting Deputy Spokesman, U.S. Department of State

The United States is pleased to note the landmark achievements of the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council.

This session included bold, assertive action by the Council to highlight the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran by establishing a new Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in that country, the first country-specific mandate created by the Council since it came into being. The Council also charted a new course for global efforts to condemn intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief while protecting and promoting freedom of expression. The Council established a Commission of Inquiry to examine serious abuses and violations of human rights in Cote d’Ivoire, and extended the Council’s scrutiny of the ongoing serious human rights abuses in Burma. And in conjunction with the session, the United States led a ground-breaking effort to get 85 UN member-states to join a statement supporting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Taken collectively, the actions taken by the 16th Human Rights Council represent a significant positive change in the Council’s trajectory.

However, much work remains to be done to ensure that the Council realizes fully its intended purpose. In particular, the United States remains determined to take all possible steps to end the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel.

The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it. We also will continue to work to thwart the efforts to elect as Council members governments that clearly do not merit membership given their own human rights records. And the United States remains determined to continue to push the Council to address a broad range of urgent and serious human rights concerns worldwide. To this end, the United States Government intends to pursue a second term on the Council at the Human Rights Council elections in New York in May 2012.

We believe that U.S. engagement in the Human Rights Council has directly resulted in real progress. In our two years on the Council, we’ve not been happy with every outcome, and have firmly denounced Council actions we disagree with, but the Council has made important strides. Much work remains to be done for the Human Rights Council to sustain the gains of the last two years and to fully realize its potential, and the United States looks forward to continuing our efforts to do so.

Remarks by NJDC follow the jump.
— David Streeter

Today, the Obama Administration reiterated its commitment to fighting anti-Israel bias in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The State Department said in a statement:

However, much work remains to be done to ensure that the Council realizes fully its intended purpose. In particular, the United States remains determined to take all possible steps to end the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it.

The State Department also said in a fact sheet that details the United States’ accomplishments in the UNHRC:

Much work remains before the Council can fully realize its mandate as the international community’s focal point for the protection and promotion of human rights. The United States will continue to work hard to diminish the Council’s biased disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it.

This declaration fits with the Obama Administration’s demonstrated record of standing up for Israel at the United Nations. Some of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments on defending Israel at the UN include:

Human Rights Council Acts to Investigate Iran

— Sharon Bender

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted March 24 to appoint an investigator, called a special rapporteur, to look into Iran’s human rights violations. The 22 to 7 vote, with 14 abstentions and four not taking part, indicates the council is taking serious notice of Iran’s long-standing human rights violations.

More after the jump.
B’nai B’rith also applauds the U.S. mission in Geneva for its hard work in support of the resolution. U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told the council that the United States and other nations were “gravely concerned at the situation in Iran, where respect for human rights has deteriorated dramatically in recent years.”

In high-level meetings in Geneva earlier this month, a B’nai B’rith International delegation urged council members to support the resolution implementing a special rapporteur.

“Iran’s human rights record is deplorable,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “The Human Rights Council did the right thing in voting to formally investigate a government that does not allow dissenting voices, that jails opposition figures in brutal conditions, and that uses the death penalty as a growing form of punishment, even on minors.”

This is the first country-specific special rapporteur to have been instituted since the creation of the council in 2006.

During the 16th session of the council, much of the four-week long gathering has been focused on Israel.

“It is encouraging to see the council can in fact see beyond Israel,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “It is significant that the Human Rights Council members, some voting outside their traditional lines of support, are taking Iran’s escalating human rights abuses seriously.”