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The Hill
Monday, November 5, 2018 - 4:00pm

By Jack Rosen

In the shadow of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, I confess that of late I have grown weary of writing messages of condolence and solidarity to ethnic and religious groups that have been the targets of the increasing hatred and violence gripping our nation. I have issued too many unheeded warnings about intolerance. Our nation is in danger and we must have more than words and warnings. We must take firm action.

While I lead an organization dedicated to the issues and interests of American Jews, I know full well that the survival and success of the Jewish people is not an end itself, but an example of the American idea of tolerance and diversity at work. It is this very idea that was threatened in Pittsburgh. It is this very idea that was threatened in Charlottesville, in Charleston, and everywhere unchecked racial and religious intolerance has lapsed into its inescapable outcome: violence.

In these dispiriting times, I offer below four ideas that can help set America on a course to heal and triumph over the worst among us: 

  1. President Trump should speak to all of America and not just his base. 

The president has not held a single “fireside-chat”-style conversation with the American people during his administration. In the wake of Pittsburgh he should address the nation people directly by whatever means he chooses on the topic of the tone of discourse in America. President Trump is key in helping change the incivility and divisive rhetoric that is dividing the nation and inflaming

  1. Congress should call a joint session on religious unity, with no party lines.

Hate is not something we face as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.  My suggestion is that Congress hold a joint session featuring a diverse gathering of religious leaders to address interfaith understanding, tolerance, and peace. For a special session like this, “bipartisanship” is not enough; I propose dissolving the aisle. I challenge our congressmen and senators to sit beside members of the opposite party, so they may enter this difficult and critical discussion not as members of a party but as Americans first.

  1. Houses of worship must stand together and adopt “collective security.”

Religious leaders in every house of worship, from every denomination, should immediately adopt a single pledge for their parishioners that states that an attack against one faith is an attack against all. Not only is freedom of worship guaranteed in our Constitution, collective security among the faithful would be a powerful bulwark against those who think and act violently in their name.

America’s spiritual leaders — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Humanist, and others — should also dedicate a sermon this month to the teachings of another faith, and in particular address their areas of common concern and belief, like mercy, compassion, and peace.

  1. Every American must reconnect with what makes us Americans. 

Ordinary Americans should reconnect with the idea of diversity and pluralism that makes America great. I challenge every family to make an American pilgrimage this year. Travel — in person or virtually — to Washington, D.C. and read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence with your own eyes. Travel to Gettysburg and other Civil War sites to see the bitter scars of a country divided. Travel to Colonial Williamsburg to the First Baptist Church, built in 1776 by free and enslaved African-Americans, and ring the Freedom Bell that stood silent since Reconstruction. Each of these places were at some point tainted with America’s original sins but each stand today as symbols of America’s uncanny ability to learn, heal and persevere. They can teach us again.

Eleven Jews perished in Pittsburgh: a piece of our national soul did as well. Only through a national reckoning undertaken together can we restore our commitment to one nation that is home to people of many beliefs and backgrounds. This is at once deeply personal and an intimate national process. We must all look within ourselves on how to live the American creed, and we must look to our leaders to help us fulfill our destiny as a shining example of tolerance, diversity, and human progress.

Jack Rosen is the president of the American Jewish Congress, an advocacy organization focused on civil rights and civil liberties of minorities.

The Hill
Monday, October 22, 2018 - 11:30am

By Jack Rosen

With midterm elections once again around the corner, Democrats, Republicans, and people of all different political beliefs are anew vocally encouraging all Americans to get out and vote.

Yet, for many of us, this election is different from others. Our politics today feel more divisive and existential in a way not seen in recent memory. For Jewish Americans across the country, rising anti-Semitism and a chaotic and ever-changing world with rapidly evolving U.S. policies have left many with critical choices that will have a lasting impact on the direction of this country and the world for years to come.

As a lifelong Jewish American activist and president of the American Jewish Congress, I cannot recall an election when anti-Semitism was so visible on the national stage. Hate crimes rates are up, including toward Jews. Just this week, in my home city of New York, two Orthodox Jewish men were brutally assaulted in the streets of Brooklyn, in separate incidents, two days in a row. This is not normal.

White supremacists have gained an unprecedented nationwide platform from which to spew hatred toward Jews and people of color. Last summer, hundreds of them gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, a college town, to chant, “Jews will not replace us.” That is not normal either.

Meanwhile, several candidates for national office represent profoundly anti-Semitic and white supremacist viewpoints. Among the candidates who have won their state primaries and who will compete for election to Congress are:

None of these men are likely to win an election, but the representation of their hate-filled views on the most important stages of national discussion is concerning.

In addition to emerging candidates, current members of Congress and of the administration have made historic decisions on matters affecting Jewish Americans, the U.S.-Israel relationship and global politics, and will continue to do so in the near future. Some policy items, such as our approach to Iran or the status of Jerusalem, are ongoing. The 2015 Iran Deal (JCPOA) is an item that continues to dominate discussions at the United Nations and in between American and European counterparts.

Likewise, the United States recently recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated its Embassy while several other countries, such as Guatemala, are now following in the U.S.’ footsteps.

Regarding any future peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, it will be up to the U.S. government to back up Israel and demonstrate that Jerusalem is not up for grabs. And as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to pick up steam on college campuses and beyond, it’s important to have a Congress that understands BDS’s discriminatory and anti-Semitic nature.

Who we elect now will significantly impact the progress and challenges that we have faced on these issues. For this reason, The American Jewish Congress has compiled data and mapped out where candidates stand on the issues that are most important to Jewish Americans. The data also shows how candidates who have previously served in Congress voted on matters affecting Jewish Americans and the U.S.-Israel alliance.

For centuries, the Jewish people, scattered around the world, lived at the mercy of governments and rulers they had no say in. In some parts of the world, that is still true for us. But here in America, we have the spectacular gift of having a voice. Here we can vote and speak freely, seek education and take part in a free press, and fight to keep those who would harm us out of power. We can never take that for granted.

In a day and age where our politics feel more divisive and in jeopardy, now more than ever, it is critical that we use our political voice — not only by voting but by coming together as a community as Jews and as Americans to discuss what issues are important to us and what we will do to fix them. Some like to say that for every two Jews, there are three opinions – a joke, but one with a degree of truth. In spite of disagreements, we must always strive to unite our community around our common values and devotedly participate in the most valuable political process known to man.

Jack Rosen is the President of the American Jewish Congress, which created an interactive tool showing where midterm candidates stand on issues relevant to Jewish voters.

The Jerusalem Post
Monday, October 8, 2018 - 12:53pm

Someone will say that Florida is a unique case, as a state that has both a considerable Jewish population and an unusually even split in terms of party lines.

By Jack Rosen

When we released the 2018 Jewish Voters Guide initiative last month, I received a lot of feedback. Many people were enthusiastic about having a platform that aims to energize the Jewish voters, but others were skeptical. One response in particular, which I heard several times, really got my attention: that the Jews, as a minority making up just 2% of the population of the United States, are not able to influence elections. 

What struck me most in their arguments was the tendency to see constituents as static groups that rarely change voting patterns, and to underestimate the power of local realities. But, it is precisely on the overlooked state and local level that so many elections are decided. So to those of you who doubt our ability to make a difference, I’d like to offer two strong examples to you today: Florida and Nevada.

You don’t have to be a political expert or a pundit to know that Florida is one of the most important electoral battlegrounds in the United States. For older Americans, the memory of the 2000 presidential election is still vivid; for younger Americans, it is one of the lessons that is constantly revisited in political science courses and in civic engagement campaigns. That was the year the political future of 300 million people came down to 0.009% of the vote in the state of Florida.  

Florida offers a valuable insight into how pivotal the Jewish vote can be on these midterms. In the presidential election of 2012, president Barack Obama won the state by less than 1%, while candidate Donald Trump won in 2016 with 1.3%. In the current Senate race, the latest election survey shows a difference of only 0.7% between Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent Governor Rick Scott. But, if that is only one survey, the aggregate of all polls, still places the difference between the candidates within merely 2%. The gubernatorial race is very close as well. According to the same survey, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum and Republican candidate Ron DeSantis are within a 2% margin.  

With these polls in mind, it is important to remember the considerable Jewish population in Florida. Jews are estimated to make up approximately 3.3% of the state population. Although there are no exact numbers, in terms of share of voters, the Jewish community accounts for roughly 3.4% of the electorate. Consider how possible changes in one group’s voting patterns can have a profound impact on elections outcomes. And the importance of the Jewish vote is channeled also on key congressional races, as swing districts in Florida and could very well determine which party holds the House of Representatives.

Someone will say that Florida is a unique case, as a state that has both a considerable Jewish population and an unusually even split in terms of party lines. That’s where Nevada comes in.

Despite having a relatively small Jewish community, the Jewish vote in of itself can sway the fate of the midterm elections. The Senate race in Nevada between incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and Democratic challenger Congresswoman Jacky Rosen is one of the biggest toss-ups and most closely-monitored races of this election season.

Secretary Hillary Clinton won Nevada in 2016 with margin of 1.6%, but the aggregate of the polls on the current Senate races shows a difference of just 0.7%. It may seem far-fetched, but it is a possibility that the roughly 1.2% of voters that identify as Jewish in Nevada might hold the keys to the Senate seat. 

The American Jewish Congress launched the 2018 Jewish Voters Guide as a way to feed political activism and encourage voting by making it simpler for Jewish voters to get information about the positions of the candidates on Jewish and Israel-related issues. The incredibly fast news cycle and national politics have suffocated local realities, and in many cases have blurred the nuances of candidates by simply categorizing them according to partisan lines. The platform’s goal is to move beyond the headlines and to focus on what really matters: the issues and where the candidates stand. 

To the skeptics that I mentioned earlier, I’d like to leave you with one incredible number: 537. That was, in the end, the difference in votes between candidate George W. Bush and candidate Al Gore in Florida. That is the difference that ultimately made George W. Bush President of the United States. It is the sort of difference that might once again decide elections in Florida, in Nevada, or in other states as well – who will become governor, who will represent the states and the districts in Congress. With a Senate currently controlled by a razor-thin majority (51 to 49 seats) and a House that is subject to a huge number of toss-up races, that small difference in votes might very well decide which party holds our next US Congress.

So don’t forget to vote this November, no matter what the odds look like. Your voice matters – and it might carry farther than you think.

The writer is the president of the American Jewish Congress.

Salon
Friday, August 10, 2018 - 12:49pm

A disorganized but persistent threat from the same Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and Confederates remains

By Jack Rosen

The scenes from Charlottesville a year ago shocked our nation, revealing in harrowing coverage the bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism that remains in the United States. As an American Jew whose parents fled the Nazis in Europe and as president of the American Jewish Congress which is rooted in the belief that Jews are more secure in a society that actively protects the rights of all its citizens, I have closely watched how American society and politics have changed since that fatal day. While the overwhelming immediate response from all races and all religions was positive with many uniting to stand united against discrimination and hatred, a disorganized but persistent threat from the same Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, Confederates and the “alt-right” remains.

Jason Kessler, who organized Unite the Right, the name originally given to the Charlottesville rally by the “white civil rights activist,” is planning a second rally after an application was denied for Charlottesville. This time the right will gather outside the White House in Lafayette Park.

If there ever was a trace of doubt of how racist and anti-Semitic the organizers are, recent internal Facebook chats from Unite the Right planners (obtained from an anonymous source by the media collective Unicorn Riot, a left-leaning investigative journalism nonprofit) show them arguing over subjects such as whether there’s a good way to “normalize” anti-Semitism without appearing to do so (in other words, without using anti-Semitic memes). This behavior is typical of alt-right members that didn’t necessarily identify with far-right and Nazi organizations according to Dara Lind, but soon began to participate “from the use of “cuck” to deride anti-alt-right conservatives to Twitter harassment of Jewish journalists by Photoshopping them into images of Nazi gas chambers.”

Of course Unite the Right and those behind the Charlottesville riot are not the only ones promoting this type of hatred and violence. A string of rallies have been held, most recently in Portland where the “Proud Boys” and others engaged in a violent demonstration. These rallies are indicative of a growing number of hate groups in the United States. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the annual count of hate groups increased from 917 to 954, while there was a 22% increase in neo-Nazi groups last year, to 121.

However, many supporters of “white rights” remain disorganized or wary of public confrontation. An upcoming investigative documentary by PBS Frontline will expose how some of the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis involved in the 2017 Charlottesville rally went unpunished and continued to operate around the country. Yet several candidates in 2018 like Corey Stewart, the Republican Senate nominee from Virginia, have adopted hardline views and policy positions openly catering to these same supporters. The bottom-top and top-bottom rally cries mutually reinforce the racism that was denounced by both parties in 2017. Leaders from both parties must continue to denounce candidates that endorse or even flirt with these fringe ideologies.

To avoid Charlottesville like riots in 2018 and prevent the institutionalization of platforms of hate for white supremacists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, we must continue the bipartisan and cross-faith efforts to clamp down and find ways to stop hateful ideologies from spreading and seeping into our society. Rallying together remains our only tool in fighting these atrocities. The institutions that make us great: our freedom, our democracy, our passion for justice are ones that were built, not given. We must go to great efforts every day to maintain them against repressing and hateful ideologies.

Scenes like Charlottesville are ones that many of us had hoped were confined to the history books. Nazi flags and new forms of hateful ideologies have no place in American politics. I am proud to work alongside Jewish Americans every day in speaking out against racism and anti-Semitism, as well as with our partners across civil society. We, as a part of American society with a unique perspective, have no other option than to stand up and do so.

Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress, an organization fighting for the civil rights and civil liberties of minorities.

The Jerusalem Post
Sunday, July 1, 2018 - 11:27am

Poland and Israel are treating the Holocaust as if it was their property to decide what happened and what did not. It is not their prerogative and with that they took a step too far.

By Jack Rosen

For the past century the American Jewish Congress – an organization I have the privilege to lead – has stood as a staunch, robust opponent of any and all who would harm our people. While this is our primary mission, we are equally duty bound to call out friends and family should they stumble in their uncompromising defense of the Jewish people. In this vein, and with a heavy heart, I feel it is my obligation to critique the State of Israel for signing a joint statement with Poland praising the latter’s efforts to end a dispute over Holocaust legislation that would have criminalized identification of Poles complicit in Nazi crimes.

The Holocaust is one of the most significant events in modern history and the worst genocide in human history. It is an event that changed the course of the Western world and had a monumental effect on Jews across the world. The Holocaust is no one’s property and no one has the right to rewrite or decide on its facts and stories. Nevertheless, Poland and Israel are treating the Holocaust as if it was their property to decide what happened and what did not. It is not their prerogative and with that they took a step too far.

While the bill in question may have been rendered less dangerous, it goes nowhere near to ensuring that the legions of Poles who, by turning a blind eye to or through direct cooperation with German wartime crimes, enabled the Holocaust. By signing this cosmetic statement, the Israelis fail to address the underlying issue that gave rise to this problem in the first place: rising antisemitism and extremism in Poland, manifested by a concerted, strategic campaign of Holocaust denial.

Don’t just take the word of this one man, born in a post-World War II displaced persons camp, whose family was annihilated through direct Polish support for the German extermination campaign. Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum – two institutions with unimpeachable credentials in ensuring that Holocaust research remains accurate and thorough – have been unsparing in their reasoned condemnation of Israel’s willingness to be party to potential Holocaust revisionism.

The Joint Israeli-Polish statement runs counter to objective historical research and, by failing to address resurgent Polish antisemitism, gives cover (inadvertently, I am sure) to revisionist arguments asserting that the Polish government-in-exile during World War II defended Jews in the face of the Nazi onslaught. The reality, precisely to the contrary, is not only that the government did not defend beleaguered Jews, but in many cases was an active partner in their destruction on an industrial level. I address this issue from a deeply personal place: My own Polish Jewish family was burned alive during the war by Poles who purported to protect them.

I am of a generation of Jews who, from the cradle, proudly looked to the Jewish state as a “light unto the nations,” an exemplar of righteousness, humanity and fealty to historical accuracy in the face of those who would deny the undeniable in furtherance of intolerance and hate. It is my sincere hope that Israel’s momentary deviation from this ethos is a fleeting anomaly.

As much as I love the Jewish state and would defend it with my life, I will never agree that it has the right or ability to alter history, especially when such revisionism is potentially so damaging to the Jewish people.

The writer is the president and chairman of the American Jewish Congress.

The National Interest
Sunday, July 1, 2018 - 11:20am

A remarkable new split within the Democratic party and between Democrats and Republicans on Israel has opened.

By Jack Rosen

A remarkable new split within the Democratic party and between Democrats and Republicans was on full display when members of the United States Congress reacted recently to the Gaza hostilities that greeted the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem. Does some Democratic leaders' opposition to Israel's conduct reflect a nascent fundamental shift on Democratic party's position? Whether or not, such opposition does increase concerns that Democrats will be emboldened into criticizing Israel as part of a broader anti-Trump posture. If that happens, it could mistakenly give the impression that the Democratic Party can no longer be a viable choice for American Jews who are supportive of Israel.

Consider that the Democrats who criticized Israeli policy in Gaza ascribed no accountability to the internationally designated terrorist group Hamas or the Palestinian Authority for their violent provocations. The May 14 statement by Democratic U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal, Keith Ellison, Henry C. Johnson Jr. and Raul Grijalva criticized the "lethal force" used by Israeli troops to contain the Gaza hostilities without a single mention of Hamas.

Additionally, a May 11 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo co-authored by Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein, and signed by ten other Democratic Senators, identified Hamas as bearing “significant responsibility” for the humanitarian situation in Gaza. However, the letter still insisted that Israeli restrictions had “made the humanitarian situation worse.” This contextual addition comes after a Hamas official admitted that some fifty of the total sixty-two Palestinians killed by Israeli forces last Monday were in fact known members of the terrorist group, calling into question widespread claims of a “peaceful” Palestinian protest. The United Nations General Assembly followed similarly faulty reasoning, passing an unjust resolution that places the blame entirely on Israel, while again failing to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Senator Sanders' dismissal of Hamas' militant provocation and Senator Feinstein's omission of Hamas' role in her statement and the UN General Assembly in its resolution, are emblematic of the increasingly progressive wing of the party taking an ever-harder stance on the Jewish State. Equally disappointing is the silence that greeted the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem from the vast majority of Democratic party leaders. A recent report by The Forward identified that a charitable foundation gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that promote the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). Senator Chuck Schumer was one of the few Democratic supporters of the embassy move, which he "applauded" the Trump administration for enacting.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats sparred over the legitimacy of America’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Figures from the Pew Research Center last January seemed to cement the idea that Israel has become a partisan issue in America, with 79% of Republicans claiming to favor Israel over the Palestinians, compared to just 27% of Democrats.

By contrast, the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which allowed for a waiver to postpone a mandated embassy move, was co-sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats and adopted by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 95 out of 100 sitting Senators. As former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman said, support of the Embassy should be a formality, as it’s a question of “celebrating the strength of our (American-Israeli) relationship, which has always been bipartisan.”

The Pew poll encapsulates the damaging polarization America is experiencing over Israel by implying that sympathy for one side automatically means hostility for the other. By failing to present a united front, Democratic party leaders risk further polarization within their ranks on Israel.

However, many in the Democratic Party have not changed their positions on Israel. Having spoken to U.S. decision makers privately, many are very critical of the stance Sanders and other Democrats have taken. Moderate voices in the Democratic party such as Senator Schumer should have their voices heard. What's needed is for Israel's supporters within the party to take a stand against its more vocal critics and stand up for Israel, serving as an example for the world.

While it is likely that many American Jews will continue to vote Democratic as they have historically done, the party cannot take their support for granted. Democratic party leaders need to refrain from divisive and incendiary rhetoric and unite behind their long-term support for Israel if they hope to retain the support of a somewhat disenfranchised, but by no means monolithic, American Jewish public. There are prominent voices that could turn the tide, but they need to mobilize before more damage is done—an anti-Israel position could emerge as part of the mainstream Democratic Party agenda. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Jack Rosen is the Chairman of the American Jewish Congress

New York Daily News
Thursday, May 3, 2018 - 1:19pm

By Jack Rosen

George Orwell wrote that "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." As anti-Semitism continues to surge in the U.S., it's time to rethink our understanding of how we define anti-Semitism and to call out the perpetrators more robustly if we are to contain its corrosive influence in our society.

Language, therefore, matters a great deal. The old proverb that "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me" could not be further from the truth.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of anti-Semitism, to which the United States was a signatory on its adoption in 2016, sets a clear precedent for what constitutes anti-Jewish animus. Displayed on the State Department's website, it reads: "Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

According to the IHRA, then, anti-Semitism must not just be limited to obvious physical attacks, but also to words that are equally if not more damaging.

The definition goes on to characterize as anti-Semitic the act of "applying double standards (to Israel) by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation." Using the IHRA definition, it becomes clear that, while legitimate criticism of Israel on a par with criticisms made of other countries cannot be deemed anti-Semitic, BDS rhetoric — advancing the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign — is inherently anti-Semitic as it holds Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, to higher standards than the rest of the world.

BDS rhetoric focuses much of its criticism on the concept of Zionism, an idea it defines on its website as a movement which "seeks to establish a distinct new society, take over control of land and resources and forcibly remove Palestinians." This stands at odds with the dictionary definition of Zionism as "a worldwide Jewish movement that resulted in the establishment and development of the state of Israel."

Last year was ground-breaking in the U.S. in that, according to ADL's Anti-Semitic Incidents Report 2017, an unprecedented 89% increase in anti-Semitic incidents was recorded on college and university campuses, where the BDS movement is most active.

The BDS movement re-appropriates human-rights arguments and rewrites history in an attempt to make a case for its real goal, undermining the right of the sole Jewish State to exist in the Middle East.

The American Jewish Congress this month launched a grassroots campaign on college campuses, collating video testimonies from students who have directly experienced anti-Semitism from BDS activists on campuses.

Among our contributors was the President of Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University, who told us she'd been harassed by a large group of BDS supporters who "called us racists who represent a country under Nazi rule." "Throughout the year we've been told that terrorism against Israelis is justified and that Zionism is a racist movement whose goal is to steal Arab lands and commit genocide," she added.

Students participating in the campaign have related to us that BDS activists use the terms "Jew" and "Zionist" interchangeably on campus, as well as referring to Jews as "whites" in an effort to draw an association with white supremacy and colonialism.

Earlier this month, BDS activists at Columbia University chose Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, to protest against the Jewish State, arguing that the 1948 declaration of statehood represented an "ethnic cleansing of Palestinians." The decision to make such claims on a day commemorating the worst genocide in human history is far from accidental and suggests the origins of the movement's anti-Semitism pre-dates the State of Israel, which came in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

The fact that anti-Semitic BDS rhetoric has an undue influence on young minds, shaping the ideology of our future leaders, is especially worrying. Leading universities, such as Columbia, New York and Harvard, Massachusetts, are the educational institutions of choice for hundreds of world leaders, including more than 10 former U.S. Presidents.

Yet the response from university administrators has been underwhelming. Pro-Israel students at the more than 10 campuses participating in the American Jewish Congress' "BDS is Anti-Semitism — United Against BDS" campaign have relayed to us that when they reported harassment by BDS activists, university administrators were reluctant to act, claiming that the anti-Semitic rhetoric used against the students did not pose a "clear and present danger of bodily harm" and didn't constitute incitement.

University authorities have shown an ambivalence to anti-Semitism occurring on their campuses that is concerning. In failing to identify anti-Semitism for what it is, authorities empower the aggressors in their claims that Jews are weaponizing anti-Semitism and the victims are therefore positioned as the perpetrators.

While freedom of speech is an essential universal freedom, when anti-Semitism and incitement exploit our liberal values of tolerance, authorities must find a way of protecting those freedoms without leaving any minority group open to harassment. We need to protect free speech without enabling those looking to promote hate speech. As Martin Luther King said: "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress.

 

 

The Jerusalem Post
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 - 11:00am

More than any other nation, Israel continues to divide opinion, among individuals, nations and at international institutions.

By Jack Rosen

In 1915, David Ben-Gurion presented his vision for an Israel “built by an industrious People, rich in substance and spirit, who come to her from afar after history has proven the essential need to create for itself a Homeland.”

This vision predated the establishment of the American Jewish Congress. The AJC is this year celebrating its centenary, having been formed in the aftermath of the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel.

Israel was founded in 1948 out of the ashes of the Holocaust. The AJC was instrumental in coordinating relief efforts for Jewish Holocaust survivors.

When the enormity of the Holocaust became public, the AJC campaigned for the creation of a Jewish state and played an integral role in winning US recognition and support for Israel.

Since then, the US has gone on to become one of Israel’s most loyal and vocal allies, yet recent data by the Pew Research Center found that just 46% of Americans sympathized with Israel over the Palestinians.

The fact that Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated just one week after Holocaust Remembrance Day is no accident.

Remembrance Day was even more poignant this year, coinciding as it does with the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the final act of Jewish resistance in the once vibrant Warsaw Jewish community, which resulted in the deaths of some 13,000 of the ghetto’s residents. This act of defiant resistance and its tragic consequences resonate with me especially. Both my parents were born in Poland and my grandfather and several uncles were killed during the Holocaust when the Polish family hiding them set their hiding place on fire, burning them alive.

The fact that Israel was founded as the Jewish state to provide a home for a Jewish demographic, an estimated 80% of which was wiped out in the Holocaust, left an indelible mark on the nation’s identity. As Chaim Weizmann wrote to Ben-Gurion during World War II: “Heretofore we were a people in search of a nation: when this is over we will be a nation in search of a people.” The fact that official data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows that world Jewry still hasn’t reached its pre-WWII levels only reinforces this idea.

More than any other nation, Israel continues to divide opinion, among individuals, nations and at international institutions, as it is held to higher standards of statehood than other Western countries, not to mention more unsavory regimes around the world.

The widespread condemnation that greeted the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a case in point. Yet despite this continued double standards and existential threats to their nation’s existence, the Israeli identity is resilient and robust, and Israelis somehow manage to continue to build their thriving country and economy.

As Israel prepares this year to mark 70 years since its creation, this small country, 58% of which is largely barren desert, has despite all odds become a world leader in the fields of energy and technology, a veritable breeding ground for innovative start-ups. Despite being in its infancy as a nation, Israeli innovation has spawned myriad inventions, from the USB memory stick and essential smart phone technology, to cherry tomatoes and water conservation technology.

Since 1948, the number of Jews in Israel has increased nearly tenfold, even though during this same period the number of Diaspora Jews has dropped from 10.8 million to about 8 million in 2016.

The 70th anniversary of Israeli independence will be marked as in previous years with the annual torch lighting ceremony, which at its inception featured 12 torches representing the 12 tribes of Israel. In 1979, the ceremony was expanded with the addition of a thirteenth torch representing peace.

Peace will only be achieved by furthering dialogue and cooperation by those with a common interest in helping to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

The US must continue to play a vital role in this process and organizations like ours can use our experience of grass roots activity and high-level diplomacy to help promote the necessary culture of cooperation for US-led efforts to engage both Israel and the Muslim world in constructive dialogue to yield results.

Israel now finds itself with a prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu who is evolving his attitude on fostering relations with Gulf States. Netanyahu recognizes that in reaching out around the world beyond Israel’s traditional allies, showing them what Israel has to offer in terms of technology and innovation, not only will it aid its economy and regional development beyond Israel’s borders, but it will help on the path to coordinating an alliance of major powers necessary to bring the region back from the brink of war.

My own experience traveling across the region has shown a clear desire from Gulf leaders to engage with Israel, and the Saudi crown prince gave the clearest indication of his support for Israeli sovereignty on the road to achieving peace when he told US media on last month’s visit to Washington: “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”

Middle East peace has long been elusive, but I firmly believe when we dare to dream big, we can realize those dreams and begin to make changes that impact the world. As Albert Einstein, co-founder of the AJC once said: “Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.” As Israel approaches this landmark anniversary, all efforts must go toward maintaining its historic good relations with the Jewish community in the US and around the world over the next 70 years.

The author is president of the American Jewish Congress.

The Hill
Monday, March 5, 2018 - 6:30pm

BY JACK ROSEN, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 

Proponents of United Nation’s Palestinian refugee aid have recently called for a halt in funding reductions, claiming potential for catastrophic consequences. The United States, a major volunteer funder of this aid, recently withheld millions in aid. While President Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump should reaffirm his commitment to halting funding for the UN project that is no longer serving it’s stated purpose.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) began operations in 1950funded by individual UN member states to provide education, health care and social services to the Palestinian refugee population “until a just and lasting solution” could be found. Perversely, by allowing the descendants of refugees, many of whom are themselves citizens of other countries, to register on its list, the agency makes the likelihood of resolving the refugee issue near impossible, as the numbers of eligible and unaccounted for refugees are condemned to rise year on year.

The fact that the UNRWA is the only refugee agency in the world that counts a second generation as refugees intentionally perpetuates the Palestinian humanitarian crisis for political gain and this must be challenged.

The recent announcement by the State Department that it would be taking a closer “look at UNRWA” and making sure that its money, of which the U.S. is the largest single donor is “best spent so that people can get the services” was met with near-universal outrage by the international community.

UNRWA, unlike other UN agencies such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which seeks to aid refugees from civil wars, conflicts and natural disasters wherever they occur, was founded to address the Palestinian refugee issue alone. UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ definition of a refugee, as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution…is outside the country of his nationality,” highlights UNRWA’s distorted approach to the issue. While other refugee populations in the world have shrunk with time, UNRWA’s figures have risen from 750,000 at its inception to more than 5 million at the last count.

UNRWA receives its mandate directly from the UN General Assembly, and is subject to the majority vote of members. This is the same General Assembly that resoundingly passed a non-binding resolution last month criticizing President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by 128 votes in favor to nine against, with 35 abstentions. The same General Assembly that, in anticipation of the U.S. administration’s decision on Jerusalem last December, voted by a majority of 151 in favor to six againstto disavow Israeli tie to Jerusalem, one of six anti-Israel resolutions it passed.

This clear and consistent anti-Israel bias forms an integral part of UNRWA’s mandate and well accounts for the agency’s deeply prejudicial approach to the Middle East conflict. By grossly inflating numbers of Palestinian refugees on its list and perpetuating the so-called “right of return,” UNRWA calls its own legitimacy into question. In its claims the Palestinian refugee issue “should be resolved by the parties to conflict through peace negotiations based on UN resolutions,” the agency seeks to prejudice negotiations by dictating the substance of a political settlement that can only be determined by both Israel and the Palestinians engaging in direct negotiations.

Donations to UNRWA are made on a purely voluntarily basis. The fact that the U.S. now seeks to share the burden it has long shouldered as the body’s principle donor, to the tune of some $350 million, does not prevent the administration from reallocating this aid budget to other more effective agencies. While much has been made of the “cut” in funding, in reality, the U.S. was not bound by any specific schedule to provide specific amounts of aid. The response by UN member states including Belgium to increase their own funding to plug the gap goes some way to redressing the traditional disproportionality in its funding.

As the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stated of the decision not to “pay to be abused” by the UN, the U.S. decision to freeze aid to UNRWA pending its concerns over its legitimacy was a direct response to the disproportionate bias repeatedly directed at Israel by the UN General Assembly. Another cause for concern is its role in enabling Palestinian unilateral action at the UN General Assembly. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments in response to the Jerusalem designation made it clear that he foresaw no role for the U.S. in the Middle East Peace Process and declared his intention to proceed with further unilateral action.

While UNRWA arguably offers some stability in the West Bank and Gaza by providing education and health-care services, without which Israel would be forced to step in as provider, the agency is in desperate need of reform.

The Trump administration has adopted a robust line against organizations acting out of America’s national interests. In transferring its funding from an ineffective agency that perpetuates rather than improving the Palestinian refugee problem to other agencies with a better track record, not only would funds better reach the Palestinians in real need of them, but it would send a powerful message to all the UN bodies that it will not tolerate unilateral appeals by the Palestinians and one-sided resolutions against Israel at the UN. Former Israel Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor is a leading advocate of merging UNRWA’s activities into the UNHCR’s mandate to better utilize available aid budgets and allow the UN to deliver a more cohesive approach to tackling the global refugee crisis.

In this way, the U.S. can build an effective roadmap for the international community to engage in decisive words and actions to facilitate constructive dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians in the hopes of reinvigorating the dormant peace process.

Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress

Haaretz
Sunday, February 25, 2018 - 5:48pm

Opinion I Take Poland's Holocaust Revisionism Personally: Poles Hid My Grandfather and Uncle, Then Burnt Them to Death

This Polish government, schooled with a deeply sanitized version of their WWII history, also defended one of the largest far-right displays in Europe in the last decade. Now they're joining the league of Holocaust deniers like Iran and the U.S. alt-right

 

Auschwitz II-Birkenau in a thick evening fog, during the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the concentration and extermination camp. Oswiecim, Poland. January 27, 2018\ KACPER PEMPEL/ REUTERS

As Edmund Burke once wrote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." While there were undoubtedly many instances of righteous Poles helping Jews during the WWII Nazi occupation of Poland, the current government cannot seek to promote recognition of their deeds by rewriting history.

In doing so, it risks stalling Poland’s path to democracy and relations with key international allies.

The fallout from Poland’s Holocaust legislation cannot be underestimated. Both my parents were born in Poland and my grandfather and uncles were killed during the Holocaust when the Polish family hiding them set their hiding place on fire, burning them alive.

The law itself is ideologically problematic. Its historical example is pre-Holocaust era law which set a maximum prison sentence of three years for insulting the Polish nation, the same sentence governed by its modern-day version.

For a generation of Poles - educated under Soviet rule, raised with a deeply sanitized version of their nation’s WWII-era history - to introduce legislation forbidding accusations of Polish collusion with the Nazis and penalizing research into Polish complicity is akin to historical revisionism at best.

Passing a law which prevents the Polish nation from acknowledging their own complicity in the Holocaust cannot be seem as a legitimate way to redress misconceptions of Poland’s war record.

The purpose of any such legislation is to deny the truth about the genocide of six million Jews, half of whom were Polish, and in doing so, it puts Poland in the same league as Iran, Islamist terrorists, the alt-right in the U.S. and proven Holocaust deniers.

 

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visits the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Who Saved Jews during WWII in Markowa, Poland. February 2, 2018\ AGENCJA GAZETA/ REUTERS

More worrying still is the ripple effect this move has already produced and which continues to reverberate.

Since the government announced the legislation, threats to the Jewish community have risen. Senate leader Stanislaw Karczewski last week asked Poles living abroad to inform the authorities of "anti-Polish comments and opinions" they saw or heard that could harm the state. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki sought to defend the legislation from attacks at a security conference in Munich earlier this week by claiming that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust, as complicit in the Nazis’ crimes as the Poles who facilitated them.

In seeking to revise the true story of the Holocaust in Poland, the government has turned a blind eye to escalating anti-Semitism and given its tacit consent for the new emerging anti-Jewish rhetoric that equates the victims with the perpetrators.

Let us not forget that this Polish nationalist government defended the rights of far-right groups to march through Warsaw last November to mark Poland’s independence day. That rally, which drew 60,000 participants, was one of the largest far-right displays in Europe in the last decade.

 

Aerial view showing the layout of the largest concentration camp and death camp run by Nazi Germany during World War II at Auschwitz near the Polish town of Oswiecim, Poland, Aug. 25, 1944AP

I have recently returned from a trip to Israel as part of the 32nd International Mayors Conference. Our delegation included 33 municipal leaders from across Europe, the US, South America and Africa, as well as the Mayor of Poznan, Poland Jacek Jaskowiak.

I showed Mayor Jaskowiak around Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Holocaust Memorial. He told me what he'd learned about WWII at school had skimmed over the loss of those millions of lives lost in Nazi death camps, and omitted completely mentioning that 90% of those were Jewish. Those were facts he only learned later, once Poland had become an independent state again.

Yad Vashem pays tribute to the 6,700 righteous Poles who risked their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust. It also makes clear that without the complicity, whether direct or indirect, of ordinary Poles, the Nazi extermination of three million Polish Jews would not have been possible. The term "Polish death camps" may not be technically correct, but the vast majority of Nazi death camps in Europe were built on Polish soil.

However unpalatable the true picture of Polish involvement in the atrocities of the Holocaust, Mayor Jaskowiak informed me, those facts that only emerged in the public consciousness in the 1990s at least went some way to addressing the issue and to facing Poland’s murky past under Nazi occupation.

 

Auschwitz death camp survivor Jacek Nadolny, 77, tattooed with camp number 192685, holds up a wartime photo of his family, as he poses for a portrait in Warsaw. January 7, 2015\ REUTERS

While contentious laws such as these may not succeed in their aim of erasing or rewriting the narrative of the Holocaust, we need society to collectively acknowledge the realities of European’s darkest chapter and ensure that never again is a commitment, and not just a slogan.

Facts are facts and must not be denied. It's a historical fact that some Poles were complicit in the Holocaust. I for one do not differentiate between the direct perpetrators of the Holocaust and those who were complicit with it.

While the Polish Justice Ministry has announced it is suspending the implementation of the law, following intense pressure from Israel and the Jewish world, it has made similar noises previously, and to no avail. I hope this time the Polish government can be prevailed on to listen to legitimate concerns and step back from this action.

Whitewashing history is a betrayal to the memory of Holocaust victims and the survivors who remained to tell their stories. Rather than denigrating their memory, it is our duty to cherish and protect it. History and all of our futures demand it.

Jack Rosen is President of the American Jewish Congress. Twitter: @JackRosenNYC