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Tuesday, February 23, 2016 - 9:28am

The past month of Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement (BDS) related news was marked with ups and downs, victories and defeats. On the domestic front, a number of states advanced anti-BDS legislation, marking a win for supporters of Israel, who rely on US legislators to put the best foot forward when it comes to the issue. However, BDS is still as prevalent on US college campuses as ever, and safety concerns over borderline-violent and hateful protests from BDS supporters continue to be cited across the US. On the bright side, a new national campus group -- Students Supporting Israel -- has arisen to combat the toxic and deep-seated presence of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Internationally, anti-Israeli sentiment continued to be espoused by numerous countries and institutional bodies over the past month, but there were key victories in two European states that sought anti-BDS legislation. And at the eleventh hour, a key ally to Israel lambasted the United Nations (UN) for their clear bias against the Jewish State.

Find out who it was, and learn more about the global fight against BDS by reading on below:

Anti-BDS Laws

Both chambers of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at bolstering states' abilities to adopt anti-BDS legislation last week. The bills protect state and local governments' right to dissociate pensions and contracts from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel. Following a string of state-level anti-BDS legislation introduced in numerous states in recent months, and modeled after the successfully executed anti-BDS laws of South Carolina and Illinois, these new Congressional bills are aimed at showing support for anti-BDS measures and at providing a legal backing for them.

And some more good news from across the pond: the United Kingdom passed its own anti-BDS bill, which will prevent any public body from imposing a boycott on a World Trade Organization member. Israel has been part of the WTO since 1995. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightfully praised the UK for making the move.

The municipality of Paris followed suit last week, when the Paris City Council adopted two nonbinding resolutions condemning attempts to boycott Israel, which are already illegal in France.

And in Germany, the Munich-based DAB Bank plans to discontinue the account of one of the top BDS campaign websites in Germany.

UN Condemnation

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused the UN of harboring a deep-seated bias against Israel during a speech she gave in Netanya. Power went as far as to say that “Bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country,” and that it is now “Israel as an idea.” She emphasized that “Israel is just not treated like other countries.”

Some see Power’s trip to Israel as a sign that the US has renewed interest in restoring peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, but at the very least, her strong words represent a much needed showing of support from a key UN member state amid months of anti-Israeli bias from both the UN and the European Union.

States

Back on the domestic front, the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill banning the state from conducting business with entities that boycott Israel. It now lies in the hands of the State Senate.

And after the New York State Senate passed a bill that would prohibit the state from conducting business with pro-BDS organizations last month, the future of the legislation now lies in the hands of the New York State Assembly, which is considering two different versions of the bill: one that would specifically prohibit the state from conducting business with BDS supporters, and another that would more broadly bar the state from doing deals with organizations that adopt a boycott against any ally of the United States.

The American Jewish Congress is currently running a petition campaign urging the New York State Assembly to pass one of the bills.

Research

A startling report released in late January indicates that 2015 saw a 40% surge in violent anti-Semitism globally, and that more than 40% of EU citizens hold anti-Semitic views. The report discusses the rise in anti-Semitism as following a “triple alliance against the Jews: an increase in anti-Semitism on the part of Muslim immigrants, a rise in the extreme right, accompanied by xenophobia and violence against minorities; and a rewriting of Holocaust history, mainly in Eastern Europe...and in Western Europe, dissemination of hate-filled propaganda by radical left-wing movements, which promote boycotts and the delegitimization of Israel and create a climate that encourages attacks on Jews for their identification with Israel.”

Associations 

Late last month, a group of British doctors submitted a request to have the Israel Medical Association expelled from the World Medical Association, in a clear showing of support for BDS. Their motives seemed not to take into account the fact that Israel, nicknamed the “Start-Up Nation,” is home to many medical facilities that conduct crucial research and develop innovate medical technology. Ultimately, however, the WMA decided not to expel Israel.

Colleges

In a sign of protest to the growing (and stifling) presence of BDS on US college campuses, a pro-Israel professor at Connecticut College, Andrew Pessin, has taken a leave of absence to study Jewish philosophy and Israeli history. This is the second semester Pessin has missed since receiving death threats over a 2014 Facebook post criticizing Hamas.

Oberlin College, a prestigious left-leaning liberal arts school located in rural Ohio, has long harbored a student population with a strong support for BDS, but as of late January, the hateful rhetoric has apparently gone too far; a group of Jewish Oberlin alumni wrote an open letter to the school administration citing concerns over the inflammatory language used by student organizations on campus, several of which have “assumed the role as the mouthpiece of the BDS movement.”

The Columbia University chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) is hard at work combatting the efforts of the pro-BDS group, University Apartheid Divest -- a joint organization formed by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace -- whose disruptive behavior has alienated many students. SSI Columbia founder Alexandra Markus, said that the lack of tolerance for Israel supporters from the radical leftwing campus group is overbearing and hypocritical, considering that the social justice issues for which most left-wingers advocate inherently involve promoting tolerance -- whether it be racial, gender, or sexual orientation issues. She also said that supporting BDS is becoming “the cool thing to do” on college campuses.

And York University, in Toronto -- a city that has certainly not been quiet about BDS -- is at risk of losing “thousands of dollars” in funding from Canadian businessman Paul Bronfman, who has threatened to end his patronage of York until they remove what he refers to as an “anti-Semitic mural” of a Palestinian protest hanging in the student center.

Pop Culture

Pop icon Jennifer Lopez has received a barrage of backlash over the announcement that she would perform in Tel Aviv for the first time ever this summer. The hashtag #CanelTelAviv has flooded social media feeds for the past few weeks, but no word has come from the L Jo camp as to whether or not she will alter her tour dates.

BDS supporters have also gone after Bruce Springsteen for the past couple of weeks, as he too will perform in Israel this summer. The same hashtag, #CancelTelAviv, has been employed in this instance as well.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 10:42am

Today marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz -- the largest German concentration camp -- where over one million people were killed during the Holocaust.

Auschwitz is considered the main symbol of the Holocaust, as it lays claim to the largest Jewish graveyard in the world. Between 1933 and 1945, eleven million people died at the hands of Adolf Hitler's tyrannical regime -- 6 million Jews, alongside 5 million gypsies, members of the LGBT community, prisoners of war, and European nationals.

Warnings of the danger of German nationalism echoed across Europe as early as 1930, the year that Winston Churchill first broached the topic, but the West was slow to respond to the desperate pleas for help from Europe’s Jewish population, and by 1933 the Holocaust was already under way. Anti-Semitism swept across Europe like a fervent wildfire in the mid-1900’s, afflicting the minds of many with the aid of German propaganda. By the time the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, it was far too late.

While thoughts of lost family members and iconic Jewish figures linger in the minds of Jews every day, today is special in that every moment is filled with heartbreak and melancholy. Today, we honor the memories of those lost, pay tribute to those that could have been, and we say to ourselves: "never again."

And this year especially, as we’ve seen a resurgence in virulent anti-Semitism across Europe in recent months, we must double down on our efforts to fulfill that mantra of “never again,” and do everything in our power to educate those who have hearts filled with hatred, to stop genocide in its tracks wherever it rears its ugly head, and to seek peaceful solutions where they are attainable. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - 2:21pm

The European Union has, unfortunately, expanded upon its decision to label products made within the disputed territories of Israel by enacting a new resolution that distinguishes between Israel-proper and said territories; the resolution stipulates that all agreements between Israel and the EU will not apply to any areas past the original geographic boundaries of Israel drawn up a year after the Jewish State was established.

This ill-willed resolution, that seems to be the next logical progression of the EU's support for BDS, could very well open the floodgates for a torrent of pro-BDS measures in Europe.

We are hard at work doing everything we can to educate and advocate on the true implications of BDS and to end the anti-Israel movement.

Here is the latest edition of BDS Hotlist:

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

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.

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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.

 

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