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Monday, January 18, 2016 - 4:00pm

Today we honor one of the great warriors for justice in the history of the United States, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), three days after what would have been his 87th birthday.

MLK, whose leadership in the battle for racial equality resulted in the passage of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped secure the same rights for African Americans that had been available only to white Americans.

Today, the struggle for equality continues, as  efforts to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community to rest on the groundwork and inspiration of MLK’s achievements. 

 
(Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with past AJCongress President Rabbi Joachim Prinz and US President John F. Kennedy)

As an organization that long has sought equality for all Americans, the American Jewish Congress played a critical role in supporting MLK and the civil rights movement. MLK often met with our then-president, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, to talk and strategize about how to  advance human rights for all Americans. On many occasions, AJCongress leaders stood side by side and marched with MLK, during his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and on other occasions around the nation.

If not for his assassination, MLK  undoubtedly would have continued his instrumental work on behalf of millions. He spoke truth to power, providing a voice for all those who otherwise were not heard in the political arena. There is no way to say for certain what more he might have achieved in the ongoing struggle for the advancement of equal rights, but even in his brief time on this earth, Martin Luther King, Jr. became one of the most important leaders in American history, remembered today around the world.

Every generation is faced with enormous challenges. The pursuit of justice and equality is an obligation we must assume in our own time if we are to honor the memory of MLK, and we must teach our children to have the courage to speak out to  right the wrongs they will encounter. His was a short but extraordinary life, and every American forever will be in his debt for reminding us that truth prevails only if men and women of goodwill are willing to fight and sacrifice.    

Rest in Peace Martin Luther King, Jr., as we celebrate your powerful example.

--American Jewish Congress

Friday, January 8, 2016 - 10:33am

 

The New Year began with a major crisis in the Middle East, one that is likely to shape the face of the region, and international relations in general, for years to come. The rapid escalation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran began with the execution of senior Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis, who accused him of calling for an armed insurrection against the state. This was  followed by an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran which, in turn, led Riyadh to sever diplomatic ties with Iran. Multiple Sunni nations--including, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, and Djibouti--announced their support for Saudi Arabia in the following days. Iran has also accused Saudi Arabia of “intentionally” striking its embassy in Yemen, which was hit by an airstrike late Wednesday night.

Many see this confrontation as the culmination of an ongoing cold war between the two countries. While the two rivals had, until now, largely fought each other for regional hegemony behind the scenes through proxies in Yemen, Syria, and to some extent, Lebanon, hostilities now threaten to turn into a full-fledged sectarian conflict. The growing animosity between the region’s two giants, one the global leader of the Shi’a  and the other of the Sunni world, has repercussions far beyond Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and US’ Policy on Syria and Iran  

This chain of events was driven partly by Saudi efforts to clamp down on internal dissent, but also by Riyadh’s  significant disappointment and unease with US policy in the region in recent  years. Following the Iran nuclear deal, the fear in Riyadh is that Washington  is giving preference to Iranian interests over those of Saudi Arabia, and that the nuclear deal will have disastrous consequences for Saudi Arabia’s political standing in the region and for its economy once sanctions against Iran are lifted. The fears in Riyadh only intensified after the Saudis realized that Washington had also changed its stance on the war in Syria. Having favored Assad’s immediate removal from power since the early years of the Syrian civil war, the Obama administration seems to have suddenly aligned itself with the Russian-Iranian position, which would allow for a transitional period of at least one year during which Assad would remain in power. Then, only a few days ago, the Obama administration decided not to follow through with its threat of imposing new sanctions against Iran following recent Iranian ballistic missile tests. In severing ties with Iran, the Saudis seem to be signaling to the Obama administration that if the US  fails to come out against what they perceive as Iranian aggression in the region, they will do so on their own.

Fallout from the Saudi announcement was immediate: Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in cutting its ties with Iran, the UAE curtailed  its diplomatic representation in Tehran, Kuwait recalled its ambassador from Iran, and Sudan expelled the Iranian ambassador from Khartoum.

Room for Optimism

While the above does not leave a lot of room for optimism, in my first letter of 2016 I would like to note several recent developments in the Middle East that nonetheless may indicate some progress in the region on both conflict resolution and human rights.

Turkey – Israel Relations 

One conflict in the Middle East that seems to be nearing resolution is that between Turkey and Israel. This anticipated resolution would bring  to an end a five-year period in which relations were strained following the 2010 Israeli commando raid of a Turkish ship as it attempted to break the Gaza blockade, during which nine Turkish citizens were killed. In  an about face, President Erdogan publicly stated several weeks ago that the rehabilitation of relations between the two countries is essential for the region’s stability. Shortly thereafter, both countries confirmed that they had concluded the details of an agreement that will allow a Turkish ambassador to return to Tel Aviv and an Israeli ambassador to Ankara. No doubt, this development is driven first and foremost by the strain in Turkish-Russian relations, which has led Erdogan to seek new regional alliances that will help him protect Turkish interests in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East at large. At the same time, both countries have additional national security interests that have accelerated their negotiations, especially the  desire to prevent Iran from increasing its influence in the region.

Human Rights in the Gulf

The close of 2015 offers some glimmer of hope not only in terms of conflict resolution but also in regard to human rights. Only several weeks ago, Saudi Arabian women were allowed to vote in local council elections and to run as political candidates for the first time in the country’s history. Nearly 1,000 women ran in the elections, and 19 of them won seats on various municipal councils. Around the same time, Saudi authorities also announced a decision to allow divorced women and widows to manage family affairs without requiring a man’s approval or a special court order, a major step to scale back some of the legal powers that Saudi men hold over their female relatives.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are barred from driving and in which they are the legal wards of a male "guardian," usually a father, husband, or brother, who is empowered to make major life decisions for them. Moreover, the municipal council elections do not carry much importance and the female candidates were not even allowed to meet male voters face to face in their campaign to  persuade  men to vote for them. Even so, it is possible that what we are witnessing is the beginning of an historic change that may eventually lead to the empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia, albeit slowly and gradually. This remains, of course, a big if, but there is certainly cause to be hopeful.

The Battle Against ISIS

Finally, 2015 ended with some  optimism regarding the fight against  ISIS in Iraq and Syria,  and the efforts to cripple its power and the threat it represents. The importance of the victory of Iraqi forces  in liberating Ramadi, the capital of  Sunni Al-Anbar province, located some 100 km from Baghdad, cannot be overstated. This is the most notable setback ISIS has suffered in Iraq in more than two years, as it could lead to ending ISIS’s control over other cities in Al-Anbar. According to various estimates, ISIS lost about 15 percent of its territory during 2015.

In any event, territorial defeats by ISIS are not  an indication that the organization is close to being eradicated altogether. ISIS is a global network committed to using terrorist methods and defeats suffered by ISIS in the Middle East may further motivate its members to strike in Western capitals, as they did weeks ago in Paris. Still, the fact that 2016 begins with ISIS on the defensive in Iraq and Syria, and that Iraqi forces, with US assistance, are taking up the fight, is a promising sign.

US in the Middle East in 2016 

Entering 2016, the dye has been cast with respect to how the region views the role of the United States. For better or worse, the Obama Administration long ago decided that the risks of action outweigh the risks of inaction,  a position extremely unlikely to change over the next 12 months as the President’s power begins to wane. The various players in the Middle East, large and small, have built that reality into their calculations. 

There is truth to the argument that the people of the region have to want peace and stability, and that the United States can’t be expected to impose it from above. But there can be little doubt that an America that sidelines itself, exerting less influence among both friend and foe, removes the only leadership force that has the  potential to impact events for the good in a sea of extremism. And, as we have seen recently, a smaller role for the U.S. provides no assurance that terrorists and their sponsors will not hit America at home. 

Notwithstanding some of the positive developments outlined above, the great likelihood is that 2016 will see worsening violence in the Middle East and in the West, including in the U.S. While the state of the economy always is a predominant issue in our Presidential elections, foreign policy and national security issues almost certainly will loom larger than ever when we go to the polls in November. We must pray fervently that the campaign for the White House will rise to a level of seriousness equal to the threats and challenges we face.

Click here to sign up for the Middle East Report

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 9:32am

The eyes of the Jewish State remain fixed on Europe following the European Union’s decision to label products made within the disputed territories of Israel last month. The presence of BDS unfortunately continues to grow on college campuses and in academic networks across the United States, but the anti-BDS movement also grew stronger in recent weeks.

We are hard at work doing everything we can to educate the public on the true implications of BDS and to end the anti-Israel movement that political analysts overwhelmingly warn threatens peace and stability between Israelis and Palestinians.

So, the American Jewish Congress presents to you the latest edition of BDS Hotlist:

Help us fight the radical BDS Movement domestically and abroad. Click here to donate to our efforts today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 4:50pm

On this day 97 years ago, the first meeting of the American Jewish Congress convened in Philadelphia's historic Independence Hall. Jewish leaders and Zionists came together to lay the groundwork for a populist counterbalance to the American Jewish Committee, which, at the time, was dominated by the wealthy and conservative German-Jewish establishment. Great American Jewish thinkers Stephen S. Wise, Felix Frankfurter, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis gathered to lay the groundwork for a national democratic organization of Jewish leaders, and to discuss Jewish concerns post-World War I; those same men would go on to present a unified American Jewish position at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and would continue to defend the rights of American Jews and all Americans for the rest of their lives.

We are still active, meeting with world leaders and representing a sensible American Jewish agenda. Last week, I attended the swearing in ceremony of Argentina's new president, Mauricio Macri, who I have had the great pleasure of getting to know over the past few years. Macri attended our annual International Mayors Conference in Israel last year, where he met with Prime Minster Netanyahu and numerous other Israeli political and cultural leaders. I look forward to supporting President Macri as he works to revitalize Argentina's image at home, within Latin America, and around the globe. For the Jewish community especially, President Macri will be an important partner in confronting sponsors of terror and ultimately, creating a safer, more tolerant world.

(Me and President Macri at his swearing in ceremony in Argentina  last week.)
 
And today, on the anniversary of our founding nearly 100 years ago, I met with the Brazilian ambassador to the United Nations, Antonio Patriota, to discuss Jewish interests in South America and Brazilian relations with the United States and Israel.
 
Thank you for your continued support over the years. Even as our organization changed -- grew or shrank, altered its platform or its function -- you stayed with us, through thick and thin. So on the anniversary of our founding, we simply wish to express our gratitude.
 
Sincerely,
 
Jack Rosen
President
American Jewish Congress

 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 5:24pm

As we approach the end of 2015, I wanted to update you on the innovative efforts underway at the American Jewish Congress. We close out our 97th year as an influential organization by building on the successes of our past and adapting our approach to meet the new challenges confronting the Jewish community at home and abroad. We are the Jewish voice of tomorrow.
 

October brought the American Jewish Congress to Israel for its 30th annual International Conference of Mayors, drawing leaders from the US and across the globe, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The theme of this year’s conference was “Smart Cities.” The group learned firsthand about the technological marvels being pioneered in Israel, and made visits to cutting-edge tech facilities. Our aim is to identify future leaders at the local level and to impact their views of Israel. Two alum of our conference were elected head of state in the past two years: Mauricio Macri, the new president of Argentina, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
 

Donate NowAt the United Nations General Assembly in September, I met with world leaders to discuss and personally counter the corrosive spread of the anti-Israel BDS Movement. It is one of our top priorities to oppose BDS and to inform influential political leaders in the United States and beyond, as well as the general public, of the true political nature of BDS: to ostracize, delegitimize, and isolate Israel. Our efforts culminated in the U.S. House and Senate passing measures in opposition to BDS.
 

We also expended great effort lobbying against the flawed Iran nuclear agreement by meeting with members of Congress and the Obama Administration, and beseeching them to rework the deal. Despite its passage, AJCongress continues to work to ensure U.S. and Israeli security interests are enhanced through rigorous enforcement and close monitoring of the deal should Iran violate it. We also remain dedicated to bringing to light Iran’s dangerous actions in the region.
 

On another front, over a thousand AJCongress supporters responded to our urgent call to support House Resolution 293, condemning Palestinian violence against Israelis and calling on the Palestinian Authority to stop inciting violence and end the conflict. The resolution unanimously passed both the House and the Senate, thanks in part to those who emailed their representatives.
 

Over the course of the year, our newly initiated Speakers Series hosted presentations with U.S. Senators, as well as former Israeli National Security Advisor, Major General Yaakov Amidror, providing the AJCongress audience insights on the most pressing issues facing Israel and the American-Jewish community.
 

We made significant strides this past year on our broad agenda. But our work is not done. Your support is indispensable if we are to continue our mission to make progress to bring peace, security, prosperity, and understanding to Israel and on behalf of Jews everywhere. Please consider contributing to our organization today by donating online or sending a contribution by mail to our headquarters at: 260 Madison Ave. 2nd Fl, New York, NY 10016.
 

Respectfully,

Jack Rosen
President
American Jewish Congress

Sunday, December 6, 2015 - 5:00pm
On behalf of everyone at the American Jewish Congress, I would like to wish you and your family a Happy Hanukkah.
 
May the story of the Festival of Lights bring you hope and inspiration, both during these eight days and throughout the year.
 
Best Wishes,
 
Jack Rosen
President
American Jewish Congress
 

Sunday, November 15, 2015 - 5:30pm

The American Jewish Congress is hard at work pressing for improved US-Israel relations, monitoring Iran to make sure that it does not breach the tenets of the nuclear deal, and advocating against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement -- which, unfortunately, took another sharp turn this month on the heels of anti-Semitic sentiment felt from Europe to the University of California Santa Cruz.

Here is the latest news surrounding the BDS movement:

Help us fight the radical BDS Movement domestically and abroad. Click here to donate to our efforts today.

 

Friday, November 13, 2015 - 10:32am

 

This week marks 40 years since the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution, with impeccably ill-timing, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht -- November, 10, 1975. This resolution, being one of the very few to later be repealed by the UNGA (in 1991), was condemned by the great Chaim Herzog, who delivered one of the most empathic speeches by any Israeli leader after the resolution passed.

 

“For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper and we shall treat it as such,” Herzog so eloquently stated before physically tearing up the resolution on the UNGA podium.

 

 

Resolution 3379 was originally supposed to condemn racism and neocolonialism when it was drafted, but a group of UNGA member states slyly included a provision that categorized Zionism as a form of racism and neocolonialism. Historically anti-Israel nations, such as the Soviet bloc states and Arab countries hailing from the Middle East, coalesced around the new version of the resolution in an effort to undermine Israel.

 

While UNGA resolutions hold no binding legal ramifications, and are more symbolic than anything, some would argue that General Assembly Resolution 3379 paved the path for modern antisemitism, and at the very least, created a token around which anti-Israel nations could gather.

 

Herzog, who sought peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians for the duration of his career as an Israeli ambassador and later as a beloved president, argued that this resolution willfully questioned the Israelis’ right for self-determination, and refused to go down without a fight. So he stood in front of the UNGA and delivered the most famous address of his life, but to no avail.

 

Unfortunately, much of the world -- including the 72 member states who voted in favor of the resolution -- failed to see the implicit hypocrisy in denouncing the single free Middle Eastern nation as a neo-colonialist and racist state, especially as the bulk of support for the resolution came from historically oppressed and colonized states (such as those from the USSR).

 

Ultimately, the UNGA realized the mistake they made and the damage caused by this resolution -- which some would argue derailed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians at a crucial time, shortly after Yasser Arafat’s olive branch speech to the UN -- and revoked Resolution 3379 in 1991. It was just the second UNGA resolution to be repealed at that time.

 

While Herzog went on to become one of the most esteemed presidents in Israeli history, the precedent set by Resolution 3379 unfortunately still lingers at the UN, where the UNGA continues to draft anti-Israel resolutions and the UN Security Council exhibits clear bias against Israel, to this very day.

 

The UN, which originally rose from the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust to promote peace and prosperity, has evidently lost sight of one of its quintessential founding goals: to make sure nothing like the horrid nightmare that befell the Jews ever happens again on this Earth. With Israel still cast under a harsh condemnatory light -- exhibited by growing support for the BDS movement and constant scrutiny over its presence in the West Bank and Gaza -- it is unfortunate that we cannot tout much progress since the days that Zionism was equated with racism and neocolonialism. The one thing we can do on this day is pay respect to the late, great Chaim Herzog, one of the most adored political leaders that Israel may claim as its son.

 

Thank you for all you did for Israel, Chaim, and may your message of peace and tolerance serve as an everlasting memento to your historic career. Rest in peace.

Monday, November 9, 2015 - 8:28pm

Today marks the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass.” On November 9, 1938, Nazi soldiers terrorized the Jewish populations of Germany and Austria, creating a culture of fear, paranoia, and hatred before the eventual horrific genocide of over six million Jews. That evening, the Nazis took the lives of 91 people -- burned down synagogues, looted Jewish-owned stores, and destroyed homes -- but they also shattered the lives of hundreds of thousands.

American Jewish Congress (AJ Congress) co-founder, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise warned the world about the impending dangers of Naziism in the early 1930’s; and the AJ Congress took the lead in lobbying the American government to accept Jewish immigrants from war-torn Europe throughout World War II. But to no avail.

 

No one could have predicted what would come to follow Kristallnacht at the time of that reprehensible evening. The Nazi’s hateful rhetoric and treatment of Jews is now, unfortunately, seared into the memories of everyone in the world as we know it, and has undoubtedly altered the course of history in numerous ways.

While we take tonight to mourn those lost on this evening 77 years ago, as well as every other person who lost their life to Hitler’s monstrous regime, we must also pay respect to those who have lost their lives to anti-Semitism in the years since.

Monday, October 26, 2015 - 10:42am

Yesterday we mourned for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the 20th anniversary of his death, one of the darkest days in Israel’s history. A true visionary, it was through empathy and sheer determination that Rabin negotiated the tenets of the Oslo Accords and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, claiming the Nobel Peace Prize in the process. He also served as a lieutenant general and chief of the Israel Defense Forces at the birth of his nation. He was a true son of Israel.

RIP Prime Minister Rabin

 

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