November 19, 2018

The top 10 moments that mattered to Jews in 5777

JTA Collage

This Jewish year was not a quiet one, to say the least. From the tumultuous first eight months of Donald Trump’s presidency, to a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, to a neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville that turned violent, to the twin weather catastrophes of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Jews, like so many others, found it hard to take their eyes off the news.

As the year 5777 comes to a close, JTA looks back at some of the moments that had the most significance for Jews, sorted below by date.

Bob Dylan is awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Bob Dylan speaking at the 25th anniversary MusiCares Person of the Year Gala at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Feb. 6, 2015. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

In an unexpected move, the Swedish Academy bestowed the iconic Jewish American singer — born Robert Zimmerman — with the highly coveted prize in October. Though Bob Dylan’s fame is indisputable — he wrote some of the most well-known and culturally significant songs of the 1960s — the decision raised eyebrows because the prize has traditionally been given to novelists and poets, not songwriters. Dylan did not seem as enthusiastic as some of his fans: He took two weeks to acknowledge the award and said he was unable to travel to Sweden for the official ceremony, though he traveled there at a later date to accept the award and present the required lecture.

U.N. criticizes Israeli settlement, and the U.S. abstains.

UN Security Council

The Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York, Dec. 21, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In December, the United Nations sharply condemned Israeli actions in a resolution calling settlements “a flagrant violation of international law” that damage the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Traditionally, the United States has vetoed such resolutions — but in its waning days the Obama administration chose not to follow suit. The move prompted outrage from Israel, centrist and right-leaning Jewish groups and then President-elect Donald Trump, who called the resolution “extremely unfair.” Samantha Power, then the American envoy to the U.N., defended the abstention, saying the resolution was in line with longstanding U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements.

Trump takes office, bringing Ivanka and Jared with him.

President Donald Trump, standing with his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, inside of the inaugural parade reviewing stand in front of the White House, Jan. 20, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Trump took office in January after his unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in November, pledging in his inaugural address to put “America first.” The use of the slogan — the name of an isolationist and often anti-Semitic movement leading up to World War II — alarmed some Jews, but Trump said the phrase had no connection to the earlier usage. Trump brought with him a cadre of Jewish advisers, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. The couple, both of whom are observant Jews, would take on critical roles in the administration as senior advisers to the president, with Kushner in charge of a thick portfolio that included brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

JCCs in U.S. and Canada targeted with more than 100 bomb threats.

The Gordon JCC in Nashville was targeted multiple times with bomb threats in 2017. (Courtesy of Gordon JCC)

From January to March, Jewish community centers, Jewish schools and other institutions were hit with more than 100 bomb threats. None of the threats, many of which were called in, turned out to be credible, but they forced evacuations and spread fear among local communities. Several Jewish cemeteries were also vandalized, prompting some to blame the rise of the “alt-right” — some say the movement was legitimized following Trump’s election — for the threats. However, neither of the two men arrested for making the threats turned out to be motivated by far-right beliefs. One of the accused, Juan Thompson, was arrested for making bomb threats against eight Jewish institutions in the name of an ex-girlfriend in a revenge plot. The main suspect, however, turned out to be an Israeli-American teenager, Michael Kadar of Ashkelon, who was arrested for making hundreds of threats. Kadar reportedly sold his bomb threat services online and suffers from a brain tumor, according to his lawyer.

Trump shouts down reporters who ask him about a rise in anti-Semitism.

President Donald Trump speaking at a White House news conference, Feb. 16, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In February, the president shouted at two journalists who asked him about an increase in anti-Jewish sentiments and incidents, and said he “hates” being called an anti-Semite, although neither reporter called him one. After asking for a “friendly” reporter, Trump interrupted a question by a haredi Orthodox journalist — he accused him of lying about his intentions — and claimed to be the “least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life.” Trump’s response drew criticism from Jewish groups, many of which had already criticized him a month earlier for releasing a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that notably did not mention Jews. His defenders said the president’s critics were politically motivated.

On first overseas trip, Trump visits Israel.

President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, left, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Israel Bardugo)

Trump paid a visit to the Jewish state on his first overseas trip as president in May, which also included stops in Italy and Saudi Arabia. The two-day trip included a stop at Yad Vashem and meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Trump, accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, also stopped at the Western Wall for a private visit, making him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the holy site and earning him high praise across Israel. A few months after the visit, Trump dispatched a team of top aides, including Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Dina Powell, to visit Israel and other Middle Eastern countries in an attempt to revive peace talks.

Israel freezes pluralistic Western Wall agreement.

Western Wall

Jewish women praying at the women’s section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, May 16, 2017. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

A June decision by Netanyahu’s Cabinet to put a hold on the creation of an egalitarian section of the Western Wall, a deal passed in 2016, drew the ire of American Jewish leaders. Some leaders, also angered by the advancement of a bill to give the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate complete control of conversions performed in Israel, warned of a growing schism between American Jews and Israel. Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, also joined critics of the decision, saying it “will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.” In August, the Israeli Supreme Court said the government must either reinstate the agreement or provide an explanation as to why it had put a hold on it.

Chicago Dyke March bans three women for carrying flags with Jewish stars.

Marchers at the 48th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in Chicago, June 25, 2017. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images)

In June, a Chicago lesbian march ejected three women for carrying Gay Pride flags with Jewish stars, saying the march was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.” The decision drew heated debate, and the Jewish reporter who first wrote about the incident for a Chicago LGBTQ newspaper said she was removed from her reporting job as a result of the article. The Dyke March controversy — as well as similar debates about the role of Zionists in the feminist movement and whether demonstrators could bring banners with Jewish stars to a Chicago feminist march — illuminated a growing challenge for Zionist Jews who feel unwelcome in liberal spaces.

Neo-Nazis rally in Charlottesville.

Hundreds of white supremacists and far-rightists on the outskirts of Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in a Virginia park in August to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The far-right protesters chanted anti-Semitic and racist slogans, including “Jews will not replace us,” and brawled with counterprotesters. One counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a suspected white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd. Trump waffled on condemning the protest, calling out neo-Nazis and white supremacists in one remark, but blaming both sides for the violence at other times, and saying there were “some very fine people” in both groups. Jewish groups, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and the president’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, criticized Trump for his response, saying he was not doing his part to condemn hate.

Hurricane Harvey floods Houston

Rescue workers and volunteers helping residents make their way out of a flooded neighborhood in Houston following Hurricane Harvey, Aug. 29, 2017. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Homes were flooded and lives were turned upside down as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August, forcing mass evacuations across the state. Over 70 percent of the city’s Jews live in areas that experienced high flooding, and synagogues, schools and other Jewish community buildings sustained significant damage. Recovery from the hurricane is expected to take years, but the disaster also served as a point of coming together for the community, as Jewish groups rallied to distribute donations and local Jewish camps offered housing to those with nowhere to go.

Palestinian Authority seeks membership in UN tourism body

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on March 27. Photo by Yves Herman/Reuters

A request filed by the Palestinian Authority last year to join the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is slated to come to a vote this week at the body’s summit in Chengdu, China.

In order for the Palestinians to gain acceptance, two-thirds of the UNWTO’s member states need to approve.

[This article originally appeared on themedialine.org]

Speaking to The Media Line, Vice President of the PA Mahmoud Al-Aloul (“Abu Jihad”) confirmed that the Palestinian leadership is being heavily pressured to not proceed with its bid.

“All I can tell you in this regard is that President Mahmoud Abbas will give a speech in China.”

He further revealed that PA is in the process of filing a request to the International Criminal Court to oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements,” among other issues.

In response, Israel has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to block the PA’s request to join the UNWTO. “Palestine is not a state and cannot be accepted as such in the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations,” according to a statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

For his part, Hassan Ka’bia, a Deputy Spokesman at the Ministry told The Media Line “that all attempts by the PA to gain memberships at the UN will ruin the serious Israeli efforts to renew peace talks and will have no effect on the ground.

“At the end of the day,” he concluded, “our allies at the UN, including the U.S., are very strong and supportive of Israel so the Palestinians will not get anything there.”

In this respect, the latest move by the Palestinians to “internationalize” the conflict comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is engaged in a push to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, having sent his top envoys to the region on multiple occasions since his inauguration. Accordingly, the proposed moves by the PA risk derailing the effort.

“We will go to the United Nations anyways as well as the International Criminal Court,” Nabil Sha’ath, a senior Palestinian official, retorted to The Media Line. He said that this was necessary because while the Palestinians had already accepted the principles of the Oslo Accords they are looking for “peace on the ground and not just on paper.”

Sha’ath stated that under ideal circumstances there would be no need for the Palestinians to look to the UN, but that Israel had not held up its end of the bargain.

Ironically, the latest row over the UN comes against the backdrop of the Arab League’s decision to green light a proposal by the PA to form a high-level committee whose purpose is to block Israel’s attempts to be elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

According to the Ma’an news agency, the case against allowing Israel a turn on the Security Council roster will include the familiar charge regarding Israeli building on lands it conquered in the 1967 war that are claimed by the Palestinians for a future state; as well as accusations directed against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of having “introduced more than 20 racist legislations reflecting a systematic policy seeking to deface the historic rights of the Palestinian people.”

There formerly existed a longstanding convention that peace between Israel and the Palestinians could only come about through direct negotiations; however, this changed on September 23, 2011, when Abbas submitted a formal application to join the UN, which was overwhelmingly accepted one month later in a General Assembly vote.

Soon after gaining overall non-member observer state status in the institution, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) became the first affiliated agency to grant full membership to the Palestinians.

But the Palestinians’ momentum was soon stunted, as U.S. President Barack Obama decided to cut off funding to UNESCO, in line with Washington’s belief that the conflict with Israel can only be solved through the direct diplomacy of the peace process. As the Americans provide a huge portion of the UN’s overall budget, other bodies got the message and the Palestinians, despite repeated warnings to further pursue the UN route, have since not been accepted into any other related associations.

That is, until the anticipated UNWTO vote this week.

Perhaps the Palestinian leadership is being driven by an absence in faith in Trump, or maybe the bid to join the UNWTO is simply a method of applying pressure on his administration, which is reportedly in the process of formulating a formal policy on the conflict.

Some analysts believe it could also be meant to send Israel a message; namely, that the status quo will simply no longer suffice.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley lays out case for US leaving Iran deal

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley testifies to the House Appropriations State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee on the budget for the U.N. in Washington, D.C., on June 27. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in a comprehensive speech laid out a possible case for the United States to leave the Iran deal, although she said no decision had been made.

Haley’s argument, made Monday in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, was that the agreement was inextricably bound to other manifestations of Iran’s bad behavior, including its development of missiles, military adventurism and backing for terrorism.

“The deal drew an artificial line between the Iranian regime’s nuclear development and the rest of its lawless behavior,” she said of the 2015 pact, which trades sanctions relief for Iran for a rollback in its nuclear program.

The Obama administration, which negotiated the deal, said that by ending at least for now the threat of a nuclear Iran, the international community could more easily confront Iran for its rogue actions. The deal did not impinge on sanctions on Iran unrelated to its nuclear activities, and President Donald Trump has continued to oppose them like his Oval Office predecessor, Barack Obama.

Haley outlined possible scenarios for leaving the deal, including one that involves essentially deferring a decision to Congress, which under U.S. law oversees Iranian compliance with the deal.

Under U.S. law, she said, “We must consider not just the Iranian regime’s technical violations of the JCPOA,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action, the deal’s formal name, but also its violation of U.N. resolutions and Iran’s history of aggression.

“We must consider the regime’s repeated, demonstrated hostility toward the United States,” Haley said. “We must consider its history of deception about its nuclear program. We must consider its ongoing development of ballistic missile technology. And we must consider the day when the terms of the JCPOA sunset. That’s a day when Iran’s military may very well already have the missile technology to send a nuclear warhead to the United States – a technology that North Korea only recently developed. In short, we must consider the whole picture, not simply whether Iran has exceeded the JCPOA’s limit on uranium enrichment.”

A frustration for Trump, who wants to kill the deal, is that U.N. inspectors continue to confirm that Iran is abiding by the deal. Trump’s top security advisers have counseled against quitting the deal, saying that would play into Iran’s efforts to make the United States responsible for any escalation in tensions.

If Trump refuses in October — the next deadline — to certify compliance, she said, “What happens next is significantly in Congress’s hands.”

Trump’s decertification “would signal one or more of the following three messages to Congress,” Haley said. “Either the administration believes Iran is in violation of the deal; or the lifting of sanctions against Iran is not appropriate and proportional to the regime’s behavior; or the lifting of sanctions is not in the U.S. national security interest.”

In those circumstances, she said, “Congress then has 60 days to consider whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran.”

Former Obama administration Iran hands mocked the speech, saying that however Trump frames abandonment of the deal, the U.S. will be blamed.

“No matter how convoluted this gets, the bottom line will be that the U.S. will be blamed for collapse,” Ilan Goldenberg, who worked on Iran and Israel policy for Obama, said on Twitter. “The reality is that if this is the tack Trump takes, he will be killing the deal, but trying to blame others.”

5 Hebron facts the UN needs to know

Hebron on July 7. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

On July 12, I joined hundreds of people from around the world at the Machpelah Cave in Hebron, the sacred resting place of our patriarchs and matriarchs. We came to pray and to strengthen one another, to honor and seek blessings from our ancestors, and to express love and appreciation for the brave Israel Defense Forces soldiers who protect the site.

Six days earlierUNESCO, the United Nations’ (U.N.) world heritage body, sought to erase 3,753 years of history. In a shameless attempt to minimize the Jewish connection to this most ancient and revered Jewish site, it voted (by secret ballot, no less) — as reported by The New York Times — to declare the Machpelah Cave a “Palestinian World Heritage Site.” Jews and non-Jews from around the world, and from across the religious and political spectrum, united in expressing outrage at this latest endeavor to rewrite history. Lately, we’ve come to expect such attempts, as vilifying Israel has become the new “normal” at the United Nations.

To dispel this latest obfuscation of truth, here are five historical points ignored by the U.N. that testify to the connection between the Jewish people and this holy site:

1. As documented in the Torah and classic Jewish texts, Hebron was Abraham’s home for 75 years. He purchased the Machpelah Cave in Hebron as a family burial plot (Genesis 23:1-20) after his wife Sarah died. Thus, Hebron is the first part of the Land of Israel that officially became “Jewish property.” Ultimately, Abraham was buried there himself (Genesis 25:9-10), as were his son Isaac, Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, (Genesis 35:29, 49:31), Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s wife Leah (Genesis 49:31, 50:13). Hebron was Isaac’s home for most of his life, and Jacob lived in Hebron and inherited the Machpelah Cave.

Later, the Bible recounts how after the Jewish people left Mount Sinai, in order to enter the Land of Israel, Moses sent scouts to investigate the land prior to their entry. According to the Talmud, Caleb, one of the scouts, sensed that the other scouts were planning to dissuade the people from entering the land, so he went to the Machpelah Cave to pray that he not succumb to their scheme. When the scouts returned, only he and Joshua encouraged the people to prepare to enter the land. Subsequently, the city of Hebron was awarded to Caleb.

2. Hebron was King David’s first capital city. Archaeological evidence points to the fact that David was first crowned king in Hebron (875 B.C.E., 2 Samuel 2:1-4) over his own tribe, Judah, and then, seven years later, he was accepted in Hebron as king by the other tribes, as well (in 868 B.C.E., 2 Samuel 5:1-5). After this, he moved his capital to Jerusalem.

Let us urge the United Nations to turn its attention to where its efforts can be truly fruitful to humanity … Delegitimizing Jewish history is not an endeavor worthy of the United Nations.

3.  The Temple’s continual connection to Hebron. In 831 B.C.E., David’s son and successor, King Solomon, built the First Temple in Jerusalem. Every morning, the Temple priests did not begin the daily service until the sun rose and Hebron became visible, in order to link the merit of the patriarchs and matriarchs to the Jewish people’s daily connection to God (Tamid 3:2; Yoma 3a).

4. For millennia, Hebron has been recognized as Judaism’s second-holiest city, after Jerusalem. According to the Zohar, the second-century classic of Jewish mysticism, the cave is called Machpelah (“double”) because it is the connecting point between our physical world and the upper, spiritual worlds, and that when a person dies, his soul enters the afterlife via the Machpelah Cave. For the same reason, the city is called “Hebron” (Chevron, related to chibur), which means “connection.”

5. Jewish settlement in Hebron has been documented and uninterrupted throughout the generations, save for 20 years between 1947 and 1967, when Hebron was under Jordanian rule and Jordan banned Jews from living within its borders. In 1967, when Israel was attacked by the surrounding Arab countries in an unprovoked war, Israel reclaimed its historic heartland, including Hebron.

This year marks 50 years since the city of Hebron and the Machpelah Cave once again became accessible to Jews and to people of all faiths. For the preceding 700 years, beginning with the rule of the Mamluks (1260 C.E.), access to the cave was granted solely to Muslims.

Let us urge the United Nations to turn its attention to where its efforts can be truly fruitful to humanity — by helping to stop the massacre of innocent civilians in Syria; combating ISIS and other terrorist groups; and ending world hunger, disease, war and discrimination. Delegitimizing Jewish history is not an endeavor worthy of the United Nations.


RABBI CHAIM N. CUNIN is director and general editor of Chabad House Publications and associate rabbi at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community, which meets weekly at the Beverly Hills Hotel. This article is adapted from the newly released Kehot Chumash (Chabad House Publications).

Nikki Haley calls UN a ‘bully’ against Israel during meeting with Netanyahu

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visits the Western Wall on June 7. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, called the U.N. a “bully” against Israel, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu thanked the envoy for “standing up for Israel” in the U.N.

“You know, that’s all I’ve done, is tell the truth, and it’s kind of overwhelming at the reaction,” Haley said in response.

She called Israel-bashing at the U.N. “a habit.”

“It was something that we’re so used to doing,” she said. “And if there’s anything I have no patience for is bullies, and the U.N. was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.”

She added: “We’re starting to see a turn in New York. I think they know they can’t keep responding in the way they’ve been responding. They sense that the tone has changed.”

She said that some members of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where she attended a meeting before arriving in Israel, were “embarrassed” by the council’s permanent Agenda Item Seven, which discusses “the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” and routinely singles out Israel for condemnation.

At the Human Rights Council meeting Tuesday, Haley said the U.S. is reconsidering its membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing among other things bias against Israel.

“It’s hard to accept that this council has never considered a resolution on Venezuela and yet it adopted five biased resolutions in March against a single country – Israel,” Haley said Tuesday. “It is essential that this council address its chronic anti-Israel bias if it is to have any credibility.”

She also met Wednesday with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at his residence in Jerusalem.

Rivlin called Haley a “dear friend of Israel. We appreciate your strong stand on the world’s most important stage, in support of the security of the people and the State of Israel. With your support, we see the beginning of a new era. Israel is no longer alone at the U.N. Israel is no longer the U.N.’s punching bag.”

During her three-day visit to Israel,  Haley is expected to fly over the country’s northern and southern borders in a helicopter, visit Tel Aviv and lay a wreath at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial center. Haley’s visit to the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall are being billed as “private and religious,” however, and she will not be accompanied by Israeli officials. President Trump, during  his recent visit to holy sites in Jerusalem, was also unaccompanied by Israeli political leaders.

American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to visit Israel on Wednesday

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Photo via JTA.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will visit Israel, including the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall.

Haley will arrive in Israel on Wednesday, according to Israeli news reports.

She is scheduled to meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as senior Palestinian officials, the Times of Israel reported.

Haley is scheduled to fly over the country’s northern and southern borders in a helicopter, visit Tel Aviv and lay a wreath at Yad Vashem, accompanied by Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon. Her visit to the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall are being billed as “private and religious,” however, and she will not be accompanied by Israeli officials. President Trump, in his recent visit to holy sites in Jerusalem, was also unaccompanied by Israeli political leaders.

In an interview in May with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Haley said that the Western Wall belongs to Israel and that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem. “I don’t know what the policy of the administration is, but I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel and I think that that is how we’ve always seen it and that’s how we should pursue it,” Haley said. “We’ve always thought the Western Wall was part of Israel.”

The comments came in the wake of reports that a Trump administration official, responding to a request that Israeli officials accompany the president when he visited the Western Wall, replied that the Western Wall “is not your territory, it’s part of the West Bank.”

In the interview, Haley also reiterated her support for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“Obviously I believe that the capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem because if you look at all their government is in Jerusalem,” she said. “So much of what goes on is in Jerusalem, and I think we have to see that for what it is.”

As a candidate, Trump promised to move the embassy. But last week, Trump signed an order renewing the six-month waiver that allows the U.S. embassy to remain in Tel Aviv. An act of Congress in 1995 required relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, but successive administrations have delayed the change with a series of six-month waivers, citing national security concerns.

Nikki Haley’s chutzpah

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on April 25. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Nikki Haley has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for only a few months, but she’s already achieved something virtually no other political figure in recent years has done: She’s united the Jewish community.

That’s saying a lot for someone appointed by a controversial president who managed to alienate 70 percent of the Jewish vote even as he claimed staunch support for Israel and his Jewish grandkids.

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche: “Nowhere has the U.N.’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel.” She was confirmed 96-4, even as other Trump appointees were stonewalled, grilled and flayed.

At a time when fractious political divisions have split many Jews, Haley has emerged as a unifying figure. If there’s anything both progressive and conservative Jews can agree on these days — and there isn’t much — it is the longstanding hypocrisy of the U.N. Security Council, which routinely “condemns,” “deplores” and “censures” Israel for its actions while ignoring more egregious abuses of power elsewhere.

“It was a bit strange,” Haley said of her first Security Council meeting in February. “The [Security Council] is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hezbollah’s illegal buildup of rockets in Lebanon … not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists … not about how we defeat ISIS … not about how we hold [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.”

That speech sealed broad Jewish support for Haley — and affirmed the conviction of right-leaning Jews that Trump would be a stalwart defender of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Haley’s “unequivocal support” and praised her agenda to put to rout the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias. “It’s time to put an end to the absurdity in the United Nations,” he wrote on Facebook.

At the AIPAC policy conference in March, Haley received a hero’s welcome, with a standing ovation that lasted long enough for her to bow, sit, then stand up again.

But even as Haley’s message was widely celebrated, I wondered whether they really were her words. Does her stance on Israel reflect her own personal values and commitments, or is she just one voice among many in an administration that often puts forth opposing views? How much freedom does Haley have to speak her mind?   

Apparently, too much.

Last week, The New York Times reported that Haley’s assertive voice is beginning to rankle those who outrank her in the White House.

As one of the few women in Trump’s cabinet and that rare non-white appointee, she is often “the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues,” the Times said. Her strong criticisms of Syria and Russia (sometimes at odds with her bosses) and her prescient observations about the link between human rights abuses and the eventuality of violent conflict have swelled her status as a voice of conscience. But they’ve also overshadowed her superior, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Now, the State Department is trying to rein her in. According to an email the Times cited, Haley was encouraged to use predetermined “building blocks” when issuing public remarks and was reminded to “re-clear” her comments with Washington “if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, or [North Korea].”

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche.

How ironic that an administration led by the reigning king of running his mouth, a president who disavows formalities and prides himself on speaking freely, openly and often coarsely, would seek to silence one of its most eloquent spokespeople. How ironic that the target of this hushing is a woman, descended from immigrants.

Perhaps this is all part of Trump’s foreign policy plan to remain unpredictable. Better to beam out mixed messages and retain the element of surprise so that provocative foreign powers like Russia and North Korea are kept in the dark, guessing. But another read on his plan is this: A predominantly white male administration needs to remind the world who the real masters are by diminishing the star of its most promising woman (sorry, Ivanka).

The climate of fear and anxiety Trump wants to cultivate abroad, he cultivates at home.

Last week, when Haley accompanied 14 members of the U.N. Security Council to the White House, Trump put her out on the ledge.

“Does everybody like Nikki?” the president asked his guests, knowing they were the ones she had criticized. “Because if you don’t, she can easily be replaced.”

The council members laughed.

“No, we won’t do that, I promise,” Trump said. “We won’t do that. She’s doing a fantastic job.”


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Nikki Haley: Trump will not allow through U.N. resolutions condemning Israel

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Photo via JTA.

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Trump administration will not allow a repeat of last year’s United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israel for its settlements, the ambassador to the body, Nikki Haley, told AIPAC.

“Never again [will we] do what we saw with resolution 2334 and make anyone question our support” for Israel, Haley said Monday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, where she earned the warmest reception of all of this year’s speakers, with an extended standing ovation.

The Obama administration allowed through the anti-settlements resolutions in December as one of its last acts, triggering bitter recriminations from Israel’s government.

Haley described her determination to help steer the course of the United Nations and its agencies from anti-Israel bias, noting her intervention keeping Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister, from becoming the body’s envoy to Libya, and in getting U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to withdraw a U.N. affiliate’s report likening Israel to an apartheid state.

Haley was one of a number of speakers at AIPAC who drew a sharp contrast at the conference between President Donald Trump’s administration and his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

“We had just done something that showed the United States at its weakest ever,” she said of the resolution.

AIPAC has striven to promote bipartisanship as a theme this conference, seeking to heal wounds with Democrats opened over divisions with Obama over settlements and the Iran nuclear deal.

Republican speakers have not been able to resist digs at Obama.

“What I wanted to make sure of was that the United States was leading again,” said Haley. “I wear high heels, it’s not for a fashion statement, it’s because if I see something wrong I will kick it every single time.”

Paul Ryan, the U.S. House of Representatives speaker, also spoke Monday evening, saying Obama had “damaged trust” with Israel. “President Donald Trump’s commitment to Israel is sacrosanct,” he said.

Ryan described the Iran nuclear deal, which swapped sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program, as an “unmitigated disaster” but – like Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke Sunday – stopped short of proposing dismantling the deal, as Republicans consistently had during last year’s campaign. Instead, he endorsed AIPAC-backed bipartisan legislation that would increase non-nuclear-related sanctions on Iran for testing nuclear missiles and backing terrorism and other disruptive activity.

The top two foreign operations officials in the House struck a bipartisan note, appearing together Monday to back AIPAC’s bid to stop President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign assistance.

Reps. Kay Granger, R-Texas, a moderate Republican who is the chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee and on the committee, have worked together on foreign assistance for years.

Without naming Trump, they said his proposal to slash foreign assistance funding by almost a third – even while preserving present levels of assistance for Israel – would harm U.S. interests.

“Foreign assistance supports a crucial role in national security,” Granger said, “and makes up just a small portion of the national budget, less than one percent.”

Added Lowey: “The United States gets a major payoff.”

AIPAC says the broader foreign assistance package advances U.S. leadership, better enabling Israel’s ally to defend it in international forums and to open doors for Israel in countries that might otherwise be wary of ties.

Foreign aid came up again later in the evening when Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip, joined Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the majority leader, to deliver what has become the standard declaration at AIPAC conferences of bipartisan support for Israel by House leadership.

The leaders spoke of working closely on Israel, including their leading tours of Israel for House freshmen, sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, an Aipac affiliate.

Arne Christenson, who manages public policy for AIPAC, asked both leaders to comment on overall foreign aid. McCarthy, a conservative who was among the first congressional leaders to back Trump last year, avoided an answer, focusing only on the need for assistance to Israel.

Hoyer, like Lowey and Granger, argued that foreign assistance is a means of securing U.S. leadership in the world, but also argued that diminishing foreign assistance while maintaining current levels of assistance for Israel, as Trump has proposed, would be counterproductive for Israel.

“To the extent that Israel (aid) is a larger and larger focus, it will raise controversy,” he said.

UN secretary-general reaffirms ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, left, shaking hands with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in New York, March 2017. The WJC’s CEO, Robert Singer, is in the background. Photo courtesy of WJC.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his recognition of ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem during a meeting with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

A statement Wednesday by the WJC said Lauder and Guterres met earlier in the week in New York, and that Guterres repeated comments he had made to Israeli radio in which he noted the existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

Palestinians in recent decades have sought to undercut overwhelming archaeological and historical evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in the city.

The WJC statement said that Guterres would do what he could to stem anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations and its affiliates. Guterres said he could not keep the U.N. Human Rights Council from passing anti-Israel resolutions.

The statement noted Guterres’ role last week in getting the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia to remove from its website a report accusing Israel of apartheid.

“There is a breath of fresh air coming from the United Nations,” Lauder was quoted as saying in the statement. “A long overdue breath of fresh air.”

Guterres’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

When will the UN Human Rights Council follow its own mission?

Delegates arrive for the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017. Photo via REUTERS/Denis Balibouse.

Editor’s note: This opinion tackling the United Nations Human Rights Council is the “con” argument published in conjunction with the “pro” argument written by David Kaye, “Reform, but don’t leave UN Human Rights Council.

In a recent letter to a group of nine non-profit organizations, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson criticized the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for a “biased agenda against Israel” and urged that “considerable reform” would be needed for the US to continue its involvement.

This was an important development, and one that echoes a growing chorus of voices who believe that the UNHRC must be pressured to change. As currently constituted, the Council discriminates against Israel and whitewashes oppression all over the world, violating its own mission and ultimately doing far more harm than good to the cause of human rights.

The UNHRC’s failure has been evident for many years now. In 2006, when the Council was founded, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was already expressing concerns about a “disproportionate focus on violations by Israel.” Unfortunately, Annan and his successor, Ban Ki Moon, were unable to hold the UNHRC accountable. According to UN Watch, between 2006 and 2015 the Council condemned Israel 62 times, compared with just 55 against all other countries combined.

The UNHRC’s discrimination and bigotry against Israel do not simply end at the disproportional condemnations. In 2008, the Council appointed extremist Richard Falk to a six-year term as “Special Rapporteur” on “human rights in the Palestinian territories.” Falk has publicly endorsed the “The Wandering Who?a book that has been widely condemned for anti-Semitism; praised leading 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin, and been accused of being “a partisan of Hamas” by the Palestinian Authority. The UNHRC has thoroughly discredited itself as a judge of right and wrong when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

While the UNHRC has criticized some human rights violations in Syria and elsewhere, it has also strenuously ignored the suffering of countless people living under some of the world’s most oppressive regimes. Women continue to suffer brutal oppression in Saudi Arabia, migrant workers are subjected to modern day slavery in Qatar, people are executed at a higher rate in China than in any other country, and political opponents in Venezuela face prosecution for merely criticizing the government.

Yet the UNHRC has not passed a single resolution condemning those responsible for these abuses. Far from facing criticism, these regimes and others like them have actually been rewarded with membership in the UNHRC again and again. The UNHRC has become a place where the worst human rights abusers go to shield themselves from accountability, in part by scapegoating the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

In December, during one of his final statements as Secretary General, Moon summed up the situation well: “Over the last decade I have argued that we cannot have a bias against Israel at the UN. Decades of political maneuvering have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports and committees against Israel. In many cases, instead of helping the Palestinian issue, this reality has foiled the ability of the UN to fulfill its role effectively.”

These candid remarks were a step in the right direction, but they also served as a reminder of how unrealistic it is to expect the UN to fix its problems from within.

Indeed, history has shown that even such criticism from the UN’s own leading officials has not led to necessary changes in the UNHRC and other UN bodies that have been similarly compromised. While withdrawing from the Council may or may not be the answer, Secretary Tillerson’s demands for reform are clearly justified. Billions of US tax dollars are invested year after year as the UN continues to prove that it is incapable of self-improvement.

The US government is right to examine all options to ensure accountability, including cutting off its voluntary funding to the UNHRC and reducing its contributions to the UN’s overall budget. After over a decade of discriminating against Israel and undermining the cause of human rights around the world, it is clear that increased pressure is needed for the UNHRC to finally start following the mission it was created to fulfill.

Roz Rothstein, CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs
Max Samarov, Director of Research & Campus Strategy for StandWithUs

The UN Human Rights Council and the U.S. commitment to human rights

The Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Nearly three years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed me as its monitor — “special rapporteur” — on freedom of expression. I report to the council about the worst abuses of expression worldwide, such as attacks on journalists and independent media, members of vulnerable minorities, and the ability of anyone to seek, receive and impart information online. In this position, I know the council, its strengths and its weaknesses.

Comprised of government representatives, the council gathers for several weeks every March, June and September in an ornate conference room at the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, to proclaim a commitment to such fundamental human rights as the prohibition of torture, extrajudicial killing and arbitrary detention as well as the rights to freedom of expression, religious belief and peaceful protest.

From my experience, I can say one thing with certainty: activists around the world, in every country, value the council as a central global platform for their voices to be heard. In my missions to Turkey, Tajikistan and Japan last year, journalists, lawyers, judges, teachers, humanitarian workers and activists all sought the help of the U.N. — at the very least, its moral support. While a U.N. visit or statement may get lost in the Western media, in many countries around the world, a word from a U.N. official or the Council can instigate controversy for days, sometimes even leading to solutions.

To be sure, the council is not a human rights nirvana. Its flaws are well-known. Forty-seven governments are elected to sit on the council, one of which is the United States, and all other governments have a seat in the room at the Palais. Many violate human rights norms regularly, some in repressive and violent ways. These flaws, according to our new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, seem to be moving the Trump administration to consider whether the United States should abandon the Council seat it won last year.

I believe the case for leaving the council is extraordinarily weak. If the administration, like Barack Obama’s administration before it, strongly objects to the council’s “biased agenda item against Israel,” as Tillerson put it, then the place to fight that bias is from within. Few listen to those outside, and few outside have the tools or the leverage to make reform.

Others have made the case for why the council serves American interests. As Suzanne Nossel, a former State Department official and current head of PEN America, has summarized it in a must-read contribution to the debate, U.S. departure from the council would help cede control of the human rights agenda to authoritarians – exactly those that the council is supposed to resist and restrain. She notes that a council with the United States has historically been better for human rights globally, not to mention better for Israel.

These realpolitik arguments work. Leaving the council makes no sense if we are talking about U.S. national interests.

For me, as someone who heard of tikkun olam before human rights, the council has merit on its own. We constantly sought venues for our own demands for the rights of Soviet Jews during the years of the Cold War or for the rights of African-Americans during the civil rights era. In recognizing that kind of searching today, the council amplifies the messages of those deprived of a voice or denounced as enemies of their people in their home countries.

Consider the kind of discussion that can take place during council meetings. In an era when governments kill their opponents, jail their chroniclers and repress their critics, human rights talk may seem wildly out of sync with the times. Yet there at the Palais, one by one, individual human rights advocates rise from their seats in the back of the room and make their way to microphones so that every person there — every government representative, every U.N. official — can hear. They have come from all corners of the world, and they say what the governments need to hear, calling them out for their abuses in front of a global audience.

You might hear, as I have, Bahraini advocates identify friends and family members held in prison merely for criticizing the government, some for doing so on Facebook or Twitter. You might hear criticism of Saudi Arabia for its jailing and flogging of bloggers, or condemnation of Turkey’s massive attack on the media, the bureaucracy and opposition politicians. You might learn of the ways in which Iran silences and represses its Baha’i minority, from education to music to religious tradition.

You might hear from a refugee who has fled totalitarian North Korea or war-ravaged South Sudan, a member of the Muslim Rohingya community subject to attack and statelessness in Myanmar, or from a Tibetan activist recounting the repression of Chinese authorities. You could be brought to outrage from stories of hunger in Venezuela, driven by authoritarian governance, or of fear from stories of LGBT communities in Cuba, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda and elsewhere.

This is more than idle talk. These individual interventions can have impact. The voices of victims and advocates have helped lead to important outcomes: special commissions to tell the truth about human rights abuses in North Korea or the brutality of ISIS and the Bashar Assad regime in Syria or special monitors to report on the human rights crises in Iran, Cambodia, Myanmar, South Sudan, many other places — and yes, the West Bank and Gaza. In some cases, stories told in Geneva have helped lead to sanctions adopted by the Security Council in New York.

In response to advocacy by nongovernmental organizations, the council also has created special mandates and appointed individual experts to monitor human rights issues worldwide, including freedom of religious belief, peaceful protest, violence against women, racism and housing (and the one I hold on freedom of expression). It has condemned all manner of human rights abuses, from anti-Semitism to discrimination against women, from racist crimes to attacks on workers’ rights. Through its Universal Periodic Review, the council reviews and reports on every country’s human rights behavior, allowing local and international activists a role in that process.

Leaving the council makes little sense if we still are to maintain that human rights play some significant role in America’s engagement in the world, even if not a leading or pivotal one. The U.N. isn’t perfect, and neither is the United States. But walking away from human rights is not who we are, and it’s not where we should go.

Reform the council, yes. Criticize its biases, sure. But recommit to it. Fix it. And make it work for those who need it worldwide.

David Kaye is a law professor at UC Irvine School of Law and the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. He can be found at @davidakaye and freedex.org.

Trump administration threatens to leave UN Human Rights Council

President Donald Trump is flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis at a White House Cabinet meeting, March 13, 2017. Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images.

The Trump administration is threatening to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing among other things the intergovernmental body’s “biased agenda against Israel.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter this week to nine nonprofit groups opposed to withdrawal — including one affiliated with the American Jewish Committee — in which he explained that the United States may quit the council unless it makes reforms, Foreign Policy reported.

In the meantime, Tillerson said the U.S. would “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”

Tillerson wrote that the U.S. was concerned as well about the council membership of countries accused of human rights violations, such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The nine groups, which include the AJC-affiliated Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human rights, wrote a letter last month to Tillerson arguing that the U.S. can better protect Israel from disproportionate criticism if it remains a member, according to Foreign Policy.

The Obama administration rejoined the Human Rights Council in 2009 after the Bush administration had withdrawn, partly as a means of exerting influence and partly because the U.S. presence might mitigate some of the council’s harsh criticism of Israel.

Israel and its supporters have accused the Human Rights Council of disproportionately targeting the Jewish state with criticism while overlooking abuses by other countries. From the council’s creation in June 2006 through June 2016, over half of its resolutions condemned Israel, according to U.N. Watch, a watchdog that monitors criticism by the United Nations of the Jewish state.

Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman asked the Trump administration to pull out of the Human Rights Council and conduct a review of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The groups “do not fulfill the roles assigned to them,” Liberman told Tillerson, according to an Israeli Defense Ministry readout of the meeting, which took place March 8 in Washington, D.C.

Last month, Politico reported that the Trump administration was considering pulling out of the Human Rights Council.

Amidst changing regional and international landscapes and bomb threats, American Jewish leaders return home from Israel

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, right, with Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations CEO Malcolm Hoenlein. Photo courtesy of Chris Goldenbaum.

“This is a new era,” claimed Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which safeguards the interests of the American Jewish community, sustains bi-partisan support for Israel, and addresses the critical concerns facing world Jewry.

The delegation of 110 leaders of America’s most important Jewish umbrella organizations returned home to continued bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers and organizations across the country following their mission in Israel after visits to Egypt, Morocco, and Greece.

Upon arrival in Israel, Hoenlein proclaimed that he is optimistic about opportunities for Middle Eastern partnerships to increase stability in the region.

“There is a new attitude, a new atmosphere, partly driven by instabilities in the region and partly by Iran. The messages we hear everywhere are the same: coming to terms [about the causes of instability in the region] and new approach [to addressing the causes],” Hoenlein said.

Before the Cyprus visit, Hoenlein cited successful meetings with Egyptian and Moroccan Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Ministers of Interior, heads of religious councils, royalty, ambassadors, and government officials. The important message of both meetings, said Hoenlein, were the new opportunities for recognition and aspirations for tolerance and countering extremist tendencies.

“There is great interest in looking at ways to cooperate with Israel as a central hub in this process,” specifically citing Israel’s energy capacities and desires to counter Iran’s nuclear weapons program that will serve as a further bond between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries.

The group also met the former President of Bulgaria, Rosen Plevneliev, who participated in the opening dinner with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “There is a recognition of desire to move away from the instability of the Middle East, and our meeting with the President of Bulgaria is an indicator of this,” said Hoenlein.

He added that there are other countries, “some of which would surprise you,” that have privately expressed their interest in being part of a Middle Eastern partnership. He hypothesized that under-the-radar private meetings will increase in the next year with these countries.

Among the discussions at the conference were lectures addressing the U.S.-Israel relationship under the new U.S. administration, reapplying pressure on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, keeping the United Nations accountable for delegitimization of Israel and anti-Semitism, countering BDS and growing anti-Semitism within the American public and on U.S. campuses, strengthening Jewish-Christian relations, building alliances with U.S. minority groups, promoting bipartisan support for Israel, and most of all, promoting unity within the American Jewish community.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also focused his address to the conference on keeping a united vision on Israel in the context of polarizing politics in the American Jewish community. “We cannot allow Israel to be a political football between different sides and ideologies,” he said.

Echoing Former President Kennedy, he exclaimed, “Friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter, it is a national commitment.”

In terms of Israeli foreign policy, President Rivlin said, the three most important issues are “number one, our relationship with the United States of America,” “number two, our relationship with the United States of America,” and “last but not least, Israel’s relationship with the United States of America.”

In addition to meeting with Israel’s elected leaders and strategic thinkers, the conference delegates were briefed on the importance of free, objective, and accurate media in the U.S. and Israel, Israel’s regional dangers of ISIS and Hezbollah, minority communities within Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel’s entrepreneurship and investment in high tech fields.

Before departing back to the United States from Israel, the conference concluded with a daylong visit to Cyprus, featuring meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

Just as the conference began with successful meetings in Egypt and Morocco, so too did it end with an amicable meeting in Greece.

President Nicos Anastasiades announced, “In a world characterized by the rise of turmoil, extremism, sectarianism, and terrorism, Cyprus, and Israel—two countries at the heart of the Mediterranean that share the same values and common vision– are beacons of stability, and natural partners of the West in the Middle East.”

 

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, New York Daily News, Forbes, and The Hill.

Report: Trump administration considering pulling out of UN Human Rights Council

President Donald Trump on Feb. 24. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The Trump administration is considering pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, in part over its targeting of Israel, Politico reported.

The withdrawal is not expected in time for the council’s new session, which starts on Monday, Politico reported Saturday, citing two unnamed sources in regular contact with former and current U.S. officials.

While the council’s targeting of Israel is one reason that the U.S. would quit the council, questions over its members and its overall effectiveness would also be part of the decision, an unnamed former State Department official told the news magazine.

Countries known for committing human rights abuses currently have seats on the council.

“There’s been a series of requests coming from the secretary of state’s office that suggests that he is questioning the value of the U.S. belonging to the Human Rights Council,” the former State Department official told Politico.

Earlier this month, the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, slammed the UN Security Council for its obsession with Israel.

She said following the meeting on Feb. 16: “The Security Council just finished its regular monthly meeting on Middle East issues. It’s the first meeting like that that I’ve attended, and I have to say it was a bit strange. The Security Council is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hezbollah’s illegal build-up of rockets in Lebanon. It was not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists. It was not about how we defeat ISIS. It was not about how we hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East,” she said, in remarks that were widely disseminated,

“I’m here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore,” Haley also said.

A final decision on remaining a member of the council would involve Haley,  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and President Donald Trump.

American Blocking of Fayyad UN bid seen by many as unfounded and counterproductive

Photo by Michael Friedson/The Media Line

Growing consensus sees move against Fayyad as wrong move and misread

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres vowed to continue to recruit qualified candidates for the United Nations’ executive and managerial ranks regardless of their nationality after the Trump administration’s surprise move to block the nomination of former Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, as the next UN mediator for Libya.

“The proposal for Salam Fayyad to serve as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Libya was solely based on Mr. Fayyad’s recognized personal qualities and his competence for that position,” said Guterres in a statement released to The Media Line on Saturday from Istanbul at the start of his five nation Middle East tour that will also take him to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Egypt.

Guterres defended his choice for a successor to German diplomat Martin Kobler in the Libya mediator role citing Fayyad’s extensive knowledge and decades of experience with challenging political, security and development issues.

“United Nations staff serve strictly in their personal capacity, “said Guterres. “They do not represent any government or country.”

UN officials say they were caught off guard by Friday’s statement by the US ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, expressing disappointment that the new United Nations secretary general, Guterres, planned on appointing Mr. Fayyad to the Libya post.

Fayyad, 64, is viewed in diplomatic circles as technocrat.

“He worked in Washington at the International Monetary Fund from 1987 to 1995 and he served as the IMF representative to the Palestinian Authority,” said Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric. “Based on the information available to him at the time, the Secretary-General had the perception, now proven wrong, that the proposal would be acceptable to Security Council members,” Dujarric told The Media Line. But Haley’s announcement Friday made it clear that the US would block Fayyad’s appointment based on his nationality as a Palestinian.

“For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” said Haley. “The United States does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations.”

Haley’s announcement prompted denunciations from former US ambassadors to Israel who are familiar with Fayyad and his politics.

“Fayyad was the best Palestinian partner for Israel and [the Libya] job has nothing to do with Israel,” tweeted Martin Indyk, Executive Vice President at the Brookings Institute and a former U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations.

Daniel Shapiro, who left the US Ambassador’s post in Tel Aviv on January 20th, concurred.

“If you know Fayyad — decent, smart, honest, ethical, hardworking — it’s much more outrageous.” said Shapiro.

“My guess is [Israel’s UN Ambassador] Danny Danon went directly to Haley to get her to kill the appointment,” said another former American diplomat on background to The Media Line. “The sad thing is Fayyad probably needs a job since the PA has made it impossible for him to engage in Palestine.”

While there has been no official reaction to the American move to block Fayyad’s appointment, Arab intellectuals and pundits voiced their outrage.

“Of all the reasons that might be put across to object to Salam Fayyad as the UN’s envoy to Libya, the fact he is Palestinian is probably the worst,” said Dr. H.A. Hellyer, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“This is blatantly anti-Palestinian bigotry – and is meant to send a signal to the international community that a Trump administration will minimize and block the participation of Palestinians in international institutions wherever possible,” Hellyer told The Media Line.

In Amman, veteran Palestinian analyst Daoud Kuttab said Halley’s move inadvertently boosted Fayyad’s popularity among Palestinians who never really warmed to the technocrat as nationalist leader.

“Palestinians are saying that the US opposition to Fayyad proves that he was never America’s man in Palestine,” said Kuttab who also noted the irony embedded in Ambassador Halley’s thwarting a Ramallah official widely despised by the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

“Americans [are] blocking someone Hamas hates. Are the White House and Hamas on the same side here?”

While Kuttab lauded Secretary-General Guterres for standing up to the Trump administration, diplomats say Fayyad’s nomination is dead in the water largely because the Arab states want to keep the White House on-side in their campaign against the Iranians.

“The Gulf States like Trump because he is escalating against Iran,” said Mohammed Soliman, an Egyptian political analyst. “They won’t push for any sort of support for Fayyad.”

With President Al-Sissi squarely focused on seeking President Trump’s selection of Egypt as America’s foremost Arab partner, it is also unlikely that Cairo will make much noise over the unravelling of Fayyad’s candidacy.

As of Sunday morning only the French and Swedish ambassadors to the United Nations had issued statements in support of the Guterres decision to appoint Fayyad.

“The position needs [Security Council] approval,” said a European diplomat in Cairo familiar with both Fayyad and UN institutions. “I don’t think the US will back down. It would be nice, but very surprising.”

A sex slave survivor fights back

Amal Clooney (left) and Nadia Murad Basee at the ceremony where Murad was named a U.N. goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking. Clooney is Murad’s lawyer. Photo by Janet Mayer / Splash News

Nadia Murad Basee, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman, is sitting in an elegant living room high up on the Wilshire corridor, staring out the window. Her ebony hair hangs to one side of her face, falling over her shoulder like a blanket. As she turns her head, about to speak, her eyes appear glassy, as if on the verge of tears. But her expression is vacant.

More than two years ago, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters invaded Murad’s village of Kocho in northern Iraq and began a siege that devastated her life and decimated the Yazidi population. Murad was barely 20 when she was separated from her family — a mother, eight brothers and three sisters (her father died when she was 10) — and then abducted and sold into sexual slavery.


The forgotten genocide: While Yazidis struggle
for existence, the world does little to help


She remembers the sound of the firing squad that murdered six of her brothers and her mother, and the nightmarish months that followed when she was bought and sold like chattel, beaten and sexually assaulted daily.

“The total number of men that raped me was 12, and I will never forget their faces,” she said during a visit to Los Angeles last November.

And yet, Murad considers herself one of the lucky ones. Thousands of Yazidis were massacred on the spot, and an estimated 3,200 Yazidi women still languish in sexual slavery. Since regaining her freedom, Murad has launched a global campaign to raise awareness of the Yazidi genocide and draw attention to the plight of those still in captivity. Over the past year, she has testified before the United Nations alongside her lawyer, Amal Clooney, and was named a U.N. goodwill ambassador for human trafficking. Last October, she received the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, and, for a time, was considered a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Time magazine named her one of the world’s most influential people.

But none of those honors has brought her joy; her focus is on rescuing her people and bringing ISIS to justice for its crimes. As she recounts the details of her story through a translator, her trauma is evident.

At times, she stares ahead blankly, avoiding eye contact. And during parts when she is overcome, tears streaming down her face, she barely seems to notice. She is so far away — her heart, her imagination, everything she loved still in Sinjar, the center of the Yazidi population in Iraq.

“My life before Aug. 3 [2014] was only life inside the small village,” she said of Kocho, with a population estimated at 2,000. “I didn’t even know other parts of Iraq.”

Murad grew up in a family of farmers that eked out a modest living tending sheep. They were so poor, her parents couldn’t afford to send her siblings to school, so her brothers wound up serving in the Iraqi and Kurdish militaries. By the time Murad came of age, though, their economic situation had improved and she was able to enroll in classes. She recently had completed her 11th year of schooling when ISIS stormed into town.

After Kurdish Peshmerga forces who were protecting the area retreated, Sinjar was left defenseless. According to a report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, most villages in the Sinjar region were completely emptied within 72 hours of the siege, with the exception of Kocho. For nearly two weeks, villagers like Murad and her family huddled together in their homes awaiting rescue, even as they heard rumors of mass executions.

Before ISIS cut off the local cellphone tower, Murad’s family reached out to everyone they knew, begging for help. They could smell the stench of rotting corpses wafting from the countryside. “We told [everyone we could] that they will kill the men and take the women and the children,” Murad recalled. But help never came.

The family considered escaping, but with three pregnant women in the house, it would have been too arduous a journey. The night before the family was captured, they considered taking their own lives. “My brother said, ‘I know they will kill us and they will take the women and children. Perhaps I should kill you and then kill myself because I do not want to see you taken,’ ” Murad said.

The next day, the family was rounded up and sent to the local school, where male and females were separated promptly. Men and boys ages 12 and older were given the choice to convert to Islam or die. Hundreds of Kocho men were subsequently beheaded or shot. Girls ages 9 and older were transferred to holding sites in larger cities, where they were sold as sex slaves. Depending on their youth, virginity and beauty, girls could fetch prices from $200 to $1,500, and were often sold back and forth among ISIS fighter-owners.

When Murad arrived at a holding site in Mosul, the women and girls were instructed to wash. After being abused during transport, many knew there was more to come. “The first place they took us was the shower, the bathroom, and there was blood on the walls,” Murad said. “Women tried to commit suicide.”

Murad testified at the U.N. that the first fighter who tried to buy her was a “huge man, like a monster.” She pleaded with him to let her go. “I cried out — I said, ‘I’m too young, you’re huge!’ But he hit me, kicked me, beat me.”

A smaller man, the first of a dozen captors, bought her, forced her to dress up, wear makeup and then raped her at will. When she tried to escape, he locked her in a room with a number other fighters, who gang raped Murad until she was unconscious.

None of this violence is arbitrary. It is a deliberate, organized system designed to annihilate dignity, hope and prevent future population growth.

“When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will Be happy then.” — Nadia Murad Basee

In describing the way rape is used as a mechanism of genocide, the U.N. report emphasizes the assault on human dignity. “The sexual violence being committed by ISIS against Yazidi women and girls, and the serious physical and mental harm it engenders, is a clear step in the process of destruction of the … group — destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

The Islamic State’s use of sexual slavery is uniquely insidious because it ensures women are doubly victimized — by their gender and their religion. In the case of the Yazidis, the organized sexual violence occurred on such a massive scale, women and girls as young as 9 years old were subjected to “multiple — sometimes hundreds — of rapes by their various fighter-owners.” The combination of physical and sexual violence with psychological trauma “rises to the level of torture” — a war crime —  according to the U.N. report, and is ultimately designed to prevent future birth of the Yazidi population. When sexual desire is vanquished, so is a group’s future.

The challenge of proving and prosecuting the Yazidi genocide will fall to Clooney, who faces the daunting task of creating precedent for it within the international justice system. At present, the International Criminal Court is the only tribunal that could hold ISIS accountable, but neither Syria nor Iraq are party to the league of nations invested in it. When an attempt to issue a special referral was made by the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China vetoed it.

“This is a clear case of genocide, and genocide that’s gone completely unaddressed and ignored,” Clooney told NBC last fall. “I can’t imagine anything worse being done by one human to another.”

During her visit to Los Angeles, Murad met with members of the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID, which currently is providing disaster relief and psychosocial support to Yazidi survivors in Greece, Iraq and Germany, where Murad is based, along with other refugees of the Syrian war.

“The typical response we get from Syrian refugees is that they’re shocked to see Israelis and Jews working with them, and it takes a while to build trust,” Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of IsraAID said. “But with the Yazidis, it was the opposite. They came to us and said, ‘We want to work with the Jews.’ ”

According to Polizer, the Yazidi advocacy organization Yazda reached out to the Israelis because they wanted to learn how to document their genocide as efficiently as Jews documented the Holocaust. “They came to us and said, ‘We need mentorship. We want to learn from the Jewish experience how you were able to rebuild your communities after the Holocaust, rebuild your peoplehood, and build strong advocacy around the world.’ ”

Over the past year, IsraAID has worked with Yazda to help train Yazidis to collect survivor testimonies. “We’re helping them build their own Yad Vashem,” Polizer said.

While much of the world remains indifferent to Yazidi suffering, Polizer said the Jews have a responsibility to help. “There’s a very special connection between Yazidis and Jews,” he said. “We’re both religious minorities in the Middle East; we’ve both suffered from a lot of atrocities throughout history, and according to the Yazidis, [when there were still] Jews in Iraq, they had a strong connection to the Jewish community there. They are big fans of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith, which is kind of unique in that neighborhood. There’s a feeling of shared destiny.”

And yet, Polizer lamented, “I don’t feel like we’re doing enough. With all that’s happening in the Middle East, the Syrian crisis, and with everything going on in the U.S., the Yazidis have been suffering from the worst persecution you can imagine and they’ve been sort of left behind.”

Murad was fortunate enough to escape her captors, but her people remain trapped by an intractable conflict. To counteract the international community’s silence, Murad is determined to broadcast her story in forums around the globe. The more she speaks out, the more ISIS threatens her life. The stakes are impossibly high. “I don’t know if Yazidis will continue to exist as a people or not,” she said.

Worn down by so much sorrow and loss, Murad is a young woman who seems old already. Her skin is marked by the acceleration of time that comes with too much tragedy too soon.

“When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will be happy then,” she said defiantly.

But the terrible truth of the matter is that for now, “the path to accountability remains blocked,” according to the U.N. report. “The genocide of the Yazidis is on-going.”

How to help

LEARN more about the plight of the Yazidis by reading reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International or other news articles.

CALL or write your elected representatives to request that they act on behalf of the Yazidis.

DONATE to organizations working to assist Yazidis through advocacy and direct aid, listed below:

Beyond Genocide
norcalrabbis.org/yezidi-fundraiser
(415) 369-2860

Yazda
yazda.org
(832) 298-9584

IsraAID
israaid.co.il
info@israaid.org

Refugee order demystified: Q-and-A with Melanie Nezer of HIAS

An attorney in Chicago on Jan. 30. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters

Once the Jewish refugee population slowed to a trickle in the late 20th century, HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, turned its attention to refugees of any faith and background. Since then, it’s been at the center of the American Jewish community’s response to global crises such as those in Syria and Sudan.

And somewhere near the center of HIAS’ operation is Melanie Nezer, its vice president of policy and advocacy. In the middle of an extremely busy week on Jan. 30, Nezer spoke to the Jewish Journal to clarify some of the finer points of the executive order signed days before by President Donald Trump, sharply restricting the inflow of refugees to the U.S.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jewish Journal: Who does this order apply to? 

Melanie Nezer: The provisions that we’re really concerned about and are looking at is the 90-day ban on admissions or entry from the seven designated countries [Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya], which bars anyone, regardless of their immigration status, from coming back to this country from those countries. And the impact of that has been even people with green cards who live here, and students who live here, and businesspeople who live here, have not been able to come home, and won’t be able to come home for 90 days. There’s some indication that maybe people with green cards will be able to come back, but the application of this order has been so chaotic and inconsistent that we don’t know that that will happen.

The second provision is the 120-day ban on refugee admissions, and that applies to refugees from anywhere in the world. So it’s these seven countries plus any other countries that refugees are coming from — 120-day ban. … [These are] people who have waited for many, many years, gone through all of the security checks that we require — interviews, filling out forms, clearing security checks, clearing medical checks, getting fingerprinted, in the case of some people, getting iris scans. We have the most intense refugee security vetting in the world, and refugees are the most intensely vetted people who come to the United States. So these are people who waited for years, maybe. After being in a refugee camp for many years or maybe living in a city, in precarious situations, they were selected to come to the United States because we decided they can’t remain safely where they are. We’ve put them through all of these requirements. Some of them have family members here. This has taken many years. They’re finally told, “You’ve cleared everything, you can travel, here’s the date.” If they live in a refugee camp, they’ve sold or given everything away. There’s no place for them to go back to, because the moment they vacate where they live, somebody else takes it. They’ve made their way to the city to get on a plane, or maybe they’re living in Amman, Jordan, or they’re living in a small town in Turkey. They’ve gotten rid of their apartment. They’ve gotten rid of everything they own. They go to the airport, and basically that golden ticket that they’ve gotten has just been ripped up. And they haven’t done anything wrong. The only difference is that the president signed this order. That’s the only thing that changed. President Trump is the only thing that changed, and the rug has been pulled out from under them, for no reason. And these are people who’ve suffered enough.

And then the third piece of it is the reduction of the refugee admissions number from 110,000 [in fiscal year 2017], which is what the State Department and some other agencies like HIAS were planning for, to 50,000. And of course, that’s 60,000 lives that are impacted there — people who won’t find safety.

JJ: So people who are in the process of seeking refugee status in the United States, are just completely stranded by this. Is that correct?

MN: We had a court order issued on Friday night (Jan. 27) by a New York federal district court that applied to all of the airports, a nationwide order [mandating that refugees in U.S. airports not be sent back]. And since then there have been many other federal courts where other airports are located that issued orders. It’s our understanding that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents are ignoring those orders. … In a normal administration, when an executive order is issued, you have a legal team and a policy team from all of the relevant agencies — so in this case it would be Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, maybe Department of Justice — doing the legal and policy analysis before its implemented. In this case, you had this president put his name on a policy that nobody knows really where it came from or how it was created or who had input into it. It certainly couldn’t have been the secretaries because most of them haven’t even been confirmed yet. And then, a minute later, you have the front line staff at the airports deciding on their own, individually how to implement it. And you have people, from what we hear, asking hours’ worth of questions to people who are legally entitled to come into this country about their religious beliefs.

JJ: It sounds like the order created a tremendous degree of confusion at the nation’s airports. Is there a sense of how many people are caught up in airports right now in the U.S.?

MN: We have no idea. We think people are still being held today, but at no airport has CBP [Customs and Border Protection] allowed attorneys to talk to anyone in secondary inspection. As far as we know, attorneys have had no access, and they are showing up to request it. Hundreds of attorneys have showed up at airports to try and speak with people and help them. But they’ve actually been blocked. … At Dulles Airport, in Virginia … Customs and Border Protection was ordered to allow access to counsel, and it seems CBP is violating that. There have been a number of orders, injunctions, and they’re all written a little differently, but one in Virginia specifically ordered access to counsel, and that is being violated.

JJ: What is HIAS doing at this moment in terms of responding to the situation?

MN: Before the order was signed, we were trying to reach the administration in any way we could, but were unable to get through. We were trying to influence the policy, as were many others. But it doesn’t look like we had any success in doing that. Of course, we are a refugee resettlement agency, so we are carefully tracking all of our cases, figuring out which ones had their flight canceled, which ones may be able to proceed this week because they’re in transit and there may be an exception for them. And then, if there is an exception and they’re allowed to get on the plane, [we’re] making sure that CBP doesn’t detain them and lets them in. So we’re keeping track of that. There’s, like, a million things we’re trying to do to respond to this kind of moment in our national history, to speak up, but also on a practical level, to help the refugees that we serve, their families who are here, and our partners in communities that receive refugees to deal with this situation.

JJ: There’s this tremendous national infrastructure that HIAS maintains. What happens to that when there are no more refugees for 120 days? Are people going to get laid off?

MN: The day after the election, we started thinking about that, because these were campaign promises that President Trump made. We didn’t quite envision the chaos that would be in the wake of this approach, that this would be unleashed … didn’t, obviously, have any idea what the scope of this would be. So we have been thinking about that, trying to plan for it, anticipating that yes, there certainly could be a possibility that we would have to shrink the network and our staff. That was somewhat theoretical, but obviously something we were thinking about. But since Friday, we haven’t been thinking about that, because we’ve only been thinking about how to help our clients, the refugees — and also, to share this news with the hundreds of synagogues and individuals across the country that have volunteered to furnish apartments, put up the beds, put up the cribs, put the dishes in the kitchen, fill the refrigerators. I mean, we have people across the country that were and are ready and willing to welcome refugees, and they are crushingly disappointed. Certainly you can’t equate it to what the refugees themselves are going through and their family members, but refugee resettlement is for many — and many of the resettlement agencies are faith-based — it’s an expression of faith. It’s a way you can put your faith into action and this order deprives us of the ability to do that.

JJ: What do we know about the exemption for religious minorities that’s mentioned in the order?

MN: From what we understand, there’s no procedures for implementing those exemptions. Certainly, CBP is not implementing them, as far as we know. We’ll see if some of the refugees that were in transit will be able to come [under the exemption]. We know that refugees from the seven blocked countries can’t come, but perhaps others will be able to travel. But in terms of the religious exemption, there are no procedures, and we will have to wait and see if there’s any guidance on how that gets implemented.

JJ: What are you saying to people who argue that these refugees coming in are not like us — which is to say, that they’re not like Jewish refugees of the 1930s, a frequent analogy — and that they can’t be vetted?

MN: I would argue that they’re exactly like us. During World War II, there was no Jewish ban. There was nothing called a Jewish ban in law, but in fact there was a Jewish ban. Many thousands of visas that were available to Germans were not issued when they could have been issued to German Jews. Why? And if you do any Googling of the newspapers back then, it was because of suspicion, fear, a sense that people could exploit the refugee program by sneaking in even though they had nefarious intent in our country. So the exact same things that were said then are being said now. And granted, it’s legitimate to fear terrorism.

There’s no question, and we have to fight terrorism. But these are people who are fleeing terrorism. And they are vetted for many, many months. We have way more information on these refugees than anyone had on refugees in the last century. Refugees don’t just flee from their country and the next day get on a plane. They are in camps, and they are registered with the [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and they are in cities, and they receive support, and U.N. and U.S. officials are very familiar with who they are over this period of time. And then, to the extent of the security screenings, if there’s any question about a person, they get screened out. There are 65 million displaced people in the world. We’re not going to have a problem filling our slots. … The victims of Islamic terrorism and violence around the world — no one suffers more than the people in those countries. And the fact that we would be willing to close our doors, particularly to children who have not been in school for many years, and when they get here, they’re so happy to be here and so ready to go to school and absorb everything, and absorb all the freedoms and the life and the safety that they have here — I don’t know how we could, as Jews, not want to respond to that.

JJ: Is this order affecting Jews right now personally, and moving forward, do you anticipate that there will be Jewish communities impacted by this executive order?

MN: There’s still Jews coming from Iran and Ukraine that will be affected by this. So we don’t know how that’s going to play out, but they’re certainly not getting on planes any time soon.

JJ: I know that HIAS is an official partner of the State Department, part of the State Department’s refugee apparatus, but is there any communication between HIAS and the White House? It sounds like they blew you off.

MN: Well, I don’t want to make it sound like it’s personal. I don’t think that they just blew HIAS off. There are nine national resettlement agencies, including the Catholic Church and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and World Relief, which is evangelical. I don’t think any of our voices were heard. There’s no particular singling out of HIAS, but it just seems that there’s a complete disregard for our input and expertise, despite the fact that religious communities have been resettling refugees for decades.

JJ: Is this ban going to affect people that either have or are seeking special immigrant visas (SIV) for having worked with American forces in Iraq or Afghanistan?

MN: Yes, it already has. Two SIV Iraqis were detained at [John F. Kennedy Airport]. They were actually the subject of the lawsuit that was filed on Friday night in New York. They were finally released because Congressman [Jerrold] Nadler, Congresswoman [Nydia] Velazquez and a team of lawyers showed up and demanded their release. But these are people who got their visas because their commanding officers recommended them because they helped our troops. … I mean, the ones that arrived just at that moment were allowed in, but Iraqi SIVs will not be allowed in. Afghan SIVs is another question, because Afghanistan is not on the list of seven countries. But right now we’re not seeing any of those SIVs entering. … The bottom line is: If you’re from Iraq and you have an SIV, you’re not coming, even though the reason you got that visa is because you fought with us.

JJ: The people who are showing up at airports and protesting, and the lawyers who are showing up in many cases just to stand around in the hopes that somebody approaches them out of the terminal, do you think they’re doing anything? Should they continue?

MN: I think all of that is critical. I’ll start from the micro. So, I know somebody who just happened to be around with the lawyers when Hameed [Khalid Darweesh] was released, one of the Iraqi SIV cases at JFK. And so she walked out, left the airport with him to get him a ride to where he was going, and he was just overwhelmed by the level of support. So just to show that one person, who did, mind you, get that visa because of his service to the United States, that there was that kind of support for him, made that night, to me, worth it. But on a broader scale, we have to resist this. This is a national crisis. This could be a constitutional crisis. We have to show that this is not OK, and the only tools we have right now are protesting, calling our members of Congress, showing up at events where our congresspeople are speaking to make sure that they stop this, and having our lawyers ready and pushing to represent people and to litigate these legal issues.

Will it change President Trump’s mind? That’s a question I can’t answer. But it’s an expression of our values as a country, and for that reason, we can’t stop doing this.

JJ: There are many Jews who are permanent residents, but not citizens, from Iran. So do you recommend those people don’t travel outside the United States for the time being?

MN: Look, I can’t give legal advice without knowing the facts of every case. But if I were in that situation, I would talk to a lawyer before I got on a plane. And, if I had immediate travel plans, I would delay them.

Honor the memory of Nazi victims by speaking out against anti-Semitism

The railway track leading to the infamous “death gate” at the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on Nov. 13, 2014. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The world comes together every Jan. 27 to remember the most devastating tragedy in history: the Shoah.

We remember the victims of the Nazi regime. The loved ones lost and the shameful treatment of human life and human dignity. We also make sure to remember our history, as painful as it may be, so we learn from it and never let it repeat itself.

Most of all, we remember the bravery of the survivors. Those brave souls who are slipping away from us as they implore the next generation to heed the lessons of this darkest of periods with two simple words: never again.

Twelve years ago, the member states of the United Nations came together to pass a resolution establishing International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This important day serves as a reminder of the U.N. at its best, as it was meant to be.

It serves as a beacon to our collective conscience reminding us all of the importance of preventing tragedies like this one and the grave consequences of failing to recognize the warning signs of hatred and bigotry.

But simply remembering the Holocaust is not enough. If we fail to learn the correct lessons, then we lose sight of the magnitude and significance of the worst crime ever committed against humanity. If we are not careful, then we run the risk of allowing the Holocaust to be misappropriated or even cheapened.

Recently, we have seen this happen all too often, including by member states of the U.N.

Under the guise of human rights and tolerance, we are witnessing a growing phenomenon where Israel is subject time and again to false analogies that can only be blamed on hatred and intolerance.

Two months ago the permanent representative of Ecuador stood in the General Assembly hall and unabashedly compared Zionism with Nazism. He compared the national movement of the Jewish people to the most vile and hate-filled movement the world has ever seen.

The worst part of that episode was the silence during his hateful statement. The representatives of the world who were gathered in the hall sat and said nothing. They were silent and did not protest as the state of the Jewish people was singled out and libeled.

Sadly, this is not the only example of the misuse of the sacred memory of the Holocaust. During a meeting of the Security Council, the most powerful U.N. institution, the representative of Venezuela accused Israel of committing a “final solution” of the Palestinians.

Thankfully, during that dark moment a number of our colleagues from around the world stood up and demanded a clear and immediate apology for such blatant anti-Semitism.

This unfortunate phenomenon takes place within the official confines of the U.N. itself.

An undersecretary general had the nerve to say that Israel’s existence as the world’s sole Jewish state is equivalent to the crimes against humanity committed in the 20th century. And the U.N. remained silent.

The over 400,000 annual visitors to U.N. headquarters learn about this darkest of periods in history at a special exhibit on the third floor of the building. After walking a few steps, these visitors are then invited to view an exhibit on the plight of the Palestinians. What lesson does this teach them? That the systematic murder of 6 million Jews can be compared to a conflict between two peoples?

Last March, the ironically named Human Rights Council voted to create a database, a blacklist, of Jewish businesses operating in parts of Jerusalem and Israel. As during other periods of our history, dark forces wish to label our businesses, our livelihood, so we can be delegitimized and boycotted. Again, the U.N. is silent.

When we come together as a people and a community, we can make a real difference. We have to be willing to call out those who would take advantage of the U.N. and the international community.

It is important, however, to also note the progress that has been made.

More and more political and religious leaders around the world are speaking out against anti-Semitism. We particularly appreciated the strong words of Secretary-General António Guterres condemning anti-Semitism when he spoke recently during a visit to a synagogue.

This was a positive development, but the U.N. should build on such statements and take a leading role battling the rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents. This is why we have asked the secretary-general to appoint a special envoy who will oversee the U.N.’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

It is important that we honor the memory of the Holocaust by making the world a better place, by pledging never to remain silent in the face of atrocities or human rights violations. We must, however, also make sure to cautiously weigh our words when comparing any events to what Winston Churchill correctly called “the greatest, most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.”

Upon assuming my post last year, one of my first meetings in New York was with Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory. He taught all of us so much. Personally, I will never forget how he implored me to always speak up when I witness injustice or wrongdoing at the U.N.

Elie was famous for saying “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.”

Let us all pledge to heed these words of wisdom. Let us all have the courage to stand up when wrong is being committed around the world. Most important, let us never shy away from speaking the truth in the defense of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

Danny Danon is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley: Trump admin. committed to longstanding U.S. policy on settlements

This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the UN, said on Wednesday that she is committed to longstanding U.S. policy on the issue of settlement expansion.

“I do understand how they think that could hinder peace,” Haley said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when pressed on the issue by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). 

“But my question is are you committed to the bipartisan policy on settlements?” Udall pressed the South Carolina Governor. 

“Yes, I am,” Haley responded.

Asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) if the incoming Trump Administration is also committed to the longstanding policy on the issue of settlements, Haley said, “I have not heard anything different.”

Haley also stated she supports the two-state solution. But she was quick to point out that the recent UN resolution (UNSC 2334), which assailed Israel for its continued settlement construction, was “very harmful to achieving a two-state solution.”

“We need to let the two bodies resolves this themselves,” she asserted. “That is what has always taken place, and I think it’s dangerous when the UN starts to tell two different bodies what should and shouldn’t happen.”

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution condemning the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. Udall introduced an amendment “reaffirming that it is also the policy of the United States to discourage settlement building.” Kaine and Cory Booker ((D-NJ) were among seven Democrats who supported the revision. Nonetheless, the amendment failed to pass as the other members of the committee including three Democrats — Robert Menendez (NJ), Ben Cardin (MD) & Christopher Coons (DE) — joined the remaining eleven Republican members on the committee to oppose the provision.

Aaron Magid contributed to this report 

Haley: Trump admin. committed to longstanding U.S. policy on settlements

This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the UN, said on Wednesday that she is committed to longstanding U.S. policy on the issue of settlement expansion.

“I do understand how they think that could hinder peace,” Haley said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when pressed on the issue by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). 

“But my question is are you committed to the bipartisan policy on settlements?” Udall pressed the South Carolina Governor. 

“Yes, I am,” Haley responded.

Asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) if the incoming Trump Administration is also committed to the longstanding policy on the issue of settlements, Haley said, “I have not heard anything different.”

Haley also stated she supports the two-state solution. But she was quick to point out that the recent UN resolution (UNSC 2334), which assailed Israel for its continued settlement construction, was “very harmful to achieving a two-state solution.”

“We need to let the two bodies resolves this themselves,” she asserted. “That is what has always taken place, and I think it’s dangerous when the UN starts to tell two different bodies what should and shouldn’t happen.”

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution condemning the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. Udall introduced an amendment “reaffirming that it is also the policy of the United States to discourage settlement building.” Kaine and Cory Booker ((D-NJ) were among seven Democrats who supported the revision. Nonetheless, the amendment failed to pass as the other members of the committee including three Democrats — Robert Menendez (NJ), Ben Cardin (MD) & Christopher Coons (DE) — joined the remaining eleven Republican members on the committee to oppose the provision.

Aaron Magid contributed to this report 

Obama: ‘No basis in fact’ to accusations US orchestrated UN anti-settlements vote

Accusations that the United States orchestrated last month’s U.N. Security Council anti-settlements resolution have no basis in fact, President Barack Obama said.

In one of his final interviews as president, Obama spoke to Ilana Dayan, a reporter for Israel’s Channel 2, who has interviewed him in the past. The interview is to be broadcast Tuesday, but Channel 2 teased a portion on Monday.

Dayan asked Obama about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the U.S. abstention allowing through the Security Council resolution was “shameful” and about Israeli ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer’s claim that there was evidence that the Obama administration orchestrated it.

“I’ll be honest with you, that kind of hyperbole, those kind of statements, don’t have basis in fact,” Obama said. “They may work well with respect to deflecting attention from the problem of settlements, they may play well with Bibi’s political base as well as the Republican base here in the United States, but they don’t match up with the facts.”

U.S. officials said they could not vote for the resolution, advanced by four countries led by New Zealand, because it was imbalanced and because the United Nations itself is an inherently antagonistic forum to Israel. However, they said they could not vote against it – triggering an automatic veto — because they agreed with its premise that settlements were undercutting prospects for peace and a two-state solution. The officials adamantly denied they led the effort to advance it.

President-elect Donald Trump objected to the resolution and tried to thwart it. It was the first resolution opposed by Israel that the Obama administration allowed through.

Obama also rejected criticism that he should not have allowed through a dramatic Security Council resolution in the last month of his presidency.

“The fact of the matter is that I’m president until Jan. 20 and I have an obligation to do what I think is right,” he said.

Dayan, describing the full interview, quoted Obama as saying that he was always a friend to Netanyahu, but that Netanyahu would not recognize his friendship.

In the clip that appeared on the Channel 2 website, she asked Obama if he has any more surprises in store for Israel, or will Netanyahu be able to “sleep well at night” until Jan. 20, when Trump assumes the presidency.

Obama, in an apparent allusion to Trump’s reputation for being unpredictable, replied: “There’s an interesting question as to whether he’ll sleep better after Jan. 20.”

Dr. Steinmeier’s disconnect

When Secretary of State John Kerry recently thundered that Israel could choose to be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but not both, he was enthusiastically supported by German Foreign Minister Walter-Frank Steinmeier.

Dr. Steinmeier has often made a point of expressing his friendship to German Jews. For instance, he was proud that the European Maccabi Games were held in Berlin, even if he grossly exaggerated the number of Jews in Germany, or ignored the fact that participants were advised to use taxis and hide their Jewish identity.

Steinmeier reflects the conflict that Germans experience in their perceptions of Jews: Holocaust guilt combined with ambivalence towards the Jewish State of Israel.

The roots of this PC form of antisemitism can be found in the doctrine of Christianity’s founder, Augustine, who condemned Jews to pariah status in his “eternal witness” concept. Jews were to be seen as unwelcome, homeless, unloved and pitied. They were to exist (the” right to exist” in today’s PC parlance) in order to remind those of Christendom’s triumph.

Ironically, Steinmeier’s doctoral dissertation was on state intervention and homelessness. Seemingly, one of the world’s oldest victims of exile and homelessness, the Jews, escaped his thought processes.

Augustine’s dictum became the basis of European culture from Luther to Wagner, from Goethe to Kaiser Wilhelm ll, from Degas to TS Elliot, and later, Israel’s standing in the UN. Ban ki Moon acknowledged that Israel is unfairly and disproportionately singled out. Most political resolutions in the UN are about condemning Israel.

Theodore Herzl asked the Pope in 1904 to endorse a Jewish national homeland. He declined, raising the Augustinian principle. In 1964, Pope Paul lV, refused to meet Israeli leaders when he visited Jerusalem for a day. Neither he nor other democracies condemned the illegal Jordanian refusal to grant Jews worldwide, access to their holiest site.

More recently, President Hollande of France, was pressured to address the Knesset, the very symbol of Israel’s sovereignty. President Obama, visiting Israel, also declined this honor, thereby sending a message to Europe, the Arab countries and the UN.

Steinmeier has jumped on the politically correct and populist bandwagon. Regardless of any future political settlement, yet demanding ethnic cleansing of Jews in the disputed territories, Steinmeier has exposed his hypocrisy.

From his office in Berlin, Steinmeier would be aware that the Jewish King David made Jerusalem the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel, 2000 years before Germans settled in Berlin near existing Slavic settlements, in what is today Museum Island in central Berlin.

If Steinmeier attended a performance of Bach’s popular Christmas Oratorio, he would have heard  the opening lines, “Joseph went to Judea, the Land of the Jews,” acknowledging Jews as the indigenous people of Jerusalem and Judea.

Endorsing the absurd statement that Israel cannot be both Jewish and a democracy, Steinmeier also condemns Germany and Europe.

Steinmeier is part of the coalition headed by Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Yes, Christian and democratic.

Most public holidays in Germany date back centuries and celebrate some religious event. While holidays vary according to state, they celebrate Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi, Assumption Day, Reformation Day, All Saints’ Day, Day of Prayer and Repentance, Christmas day, St Stephen’s day, St Martin’s Day and St Nicholas day. Not a small number for a democracy. The cross also appears on many European flags and other symbols like Germany’s Grand Cross Medal.

Israel is similar to the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe, with holidays rooted in their religious  heritage. Israel has always been successful as a Jewish and democratic state, with non-Jewish minorities represented in the Knesset, judiciary, military, media and more. Whatever a final settlement might bring, Israel will remain a Jewish democratic state.

Does Steinmeier believe that Christian Germany  cannot be a democracy? If he ridicules that notion, why demand a different set rules for the Jewish State of Israel where Ramadan is also respected and Christians given free gifts of Jerusalem Pine Christmas trees by the authorities?

Steinmeier is an enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic State of Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal agreement. Despite being a totalitarian country with public executions of “undesirables” such as gays and dissidents, Iran is also the prime sponsor of international terror. It has a vast spy network in Germany. It sponsors the annual Al Quds Day marches in Berlin, calling for the annihilation of Israel. Yet Steinmeier rushed to visit that country, smile at photo ops with mullahs, while downplaying Iran’s open threats to continue where Hitler left off. Steinmeier has stated that the rejection of capital punishment is a key German human-rights policy—when it suits.

While Steinmeier raises concerns about “a Jewish” Israel, he has been very lenient to non-democracies such as Russia and China. Realpolitik is all relative for Steinmeier who fails to recognise, that despite a future agreement, Jews are the indigenous people of the disputed territories.

Mr Abbas has been a guest of Germany. In his interviews, he referred to terrorists as “martyrs.” He lied by justifying attacks against Israelis as “defending the Al Aqsa Mosque.” His antisemitic rants of “Judaizing” Jerusalem and that Jews ”would never be allowed to defile the holy sites with their dirty feet,” never raised red flags for Steinmeier.

In reality, Abbas should have been arrested. Not only is he a Holocaust denier, a crime in Germany, but Abbas was the paymaster for the Munich Olympic Games massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972. Arafat and Abbas kissed operations chief, Abu Daoud, and wished him luck before that attack. In 2016, Abbas referred to that massacre as a “heroic operation.”  Steinmeier does not see that as a problem, but is concerned about a “Jewish” State of Israel.

Steinmeier  welcomed UNSC Resolution 2334,demanding  Israel return to its 1948 indefensible cease fire lines. Steinmeier on the other hand is part of a government that upholds Israel’s “right to exist,” whatever that means.

Ethnic cleansing of Jews is not democratic. Endorsing a ban on Jews in Eastern Jerusalem and their holiest site, the Western Wall, shames Steinmeier, both as a German and as a western foreign minister.

Steinmeier  would do well to understand his own history that includes not only Augustine and Luther’s legacies, but also his predecessor, Walther Rathenau, the only Jewish cabinet minister in German history. He was murdered by fanatical German nationalists in 1922. As a Doctor of Law, Steinmeier could also read opinions of international jurists such as Stephen Schwebel and Jacques Gauthier about the Israeli occupation’s legality.

Having endorsed Kerry’s advice to Israel, Steinmeier should now hasten to return the honorary doctorate he received in 2015 from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, which is partly in “occupied territory.”

Why would he flout the very resolution he supports?


Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the acclaimed satirical novel, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.”

Israel to cut $6M funding to UN ‘anti-Israel bodies’

Israel will cut approximately $6 million of its annual contribution to United Nations’ bodies it deemed “anti-Israel,” following the passage by the U.N. Security Council of an anti-settlement resolution.

The resolution adopted last month — for which 14 countries voted in favor with only the U.S. abstaining — called Israeli settlements “a flagrant violation of international law” that damage the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the resolution and said he was planning to cut Israeli aid to U.N. bodies, according to the Israeli daily Maariv.

The funding cuts represent “an act of protest” in response to the Security Council resolution and target “the portion of the U.N. budget allocated to anti-Israel bodies,” said a Friday statement by Israel’s U.N. mission.

Those bodies include the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division for Palestinian Rights, the Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, and the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine of the U.N. Department of Public Information.

Israel’s annual contribution to the United Nations amounts to over $40 million, a spokesman for Israel’s U.N. mission told JTA in an email. The U.N.’s budget for 2016-2017 totals $5.4 billion, with the U.S. being the largest contributor, followed by Japan and China.

Israel’s decision to cut funds is “the first in a series of steps under consideration by the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Mission in reaction to the recent Security Council resolution,” said the statement.

The mission is planning to move ahead with additional initiatives after the Donald Trump takes office on January 20.

Trump had called for a U.S. veto of the resolution, and slammed President Barack Obama after the vote for treating Israel with “total disdain and disrespect.”

American presidents have long protected Israel from extreme censure at the U.N. As recently as 2011, Obama vetoed a similar resolution on settlements that, like this one, was adamantly opposed by Israel.

On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, urged the U.S. to cut taxpayer funding to the U.N., unless the international body repeals the anti-settlement resolution, according to a statement.

Bipartisan support for Rubio/Cardin resolution condemning UN

This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

Members of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday began to rally around a bipartisan resolution assailing the United Nations over the anti-Israel (UNSC 2334) resolution that passed with the abstention of the U.S. last month.  

The bill sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) “rejects efforts by outside bodies, including the UNSC, to impose solutions from the outside.” The Senate bill is similar to a House resolution condemning the international body that is expected to be brought to a vote on Thursday.

“Efforts to delegitimize Israel have been underway a long time at the United Nations and have now sadly been aided by the outgoing administration, but the time has come to turn back the tide and renew America’s commitment to the Jewish state,” Rubio said in a statement.

The bill has received the support from over 20 Senators including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) highlightings its broad bipartisan appeal.

In a statement on Wednesday, Schumer blasted the outgoing Obama Administration for not following in the path of past administrations – both Democrat and Republican – in “protecting Israel from the vagaries” of the “biased” UN. “This Senate resolution reaffirms that peace must come through direct negotiations in order to achieve a sustainable two-state solution,” said Schumer.

The resolution is non-binding, unlike other legislation advanced by Republican Senators Dean Heller (R-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to freeze certain assistance to the State Department until the U.S. Embassy is moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reduce funding for the United Nations

The resolution also urges the current Administration and future administrations to uphold the practice of vetoing all United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to dictate terms and a timeline for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on unilateral terms.

AIPAC called on its members to support the resolutions as the group viewed UNSC 2334 as “one-sided” and “anti-Israel.”

J Street, on the other hand, urged Congress to oppose the House resolution. “Res. claims U.S. departed from long-standing policy by abstaining. FALSE. U.S. backed/abstained from 50 votes criticizing Israeli acts since 67,” J-Street wrote on Twitter.

A poll released on Wednesday highlighted that a plurality of U.S. voters (35%) support the UN resolution. Only 28 percent were opposed to it. The poll also suggested the American public is split on the issue of settlements. According to the Politico/Morning Consult poll, 28 percent support Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, while an equal number agree with longstanding U.S. policy opposing the expansion. Forty-three percent had heard nothing or not much about UNSC 2234.

A Republican Congressional staff official told Jewish Insider that the non-binding resolution slamming UNSC resolution 2234 “will almost certainly pass this week at least in the House. We can expect a pretty broad consensus on that.”

However, the informed GOP aide noted that the resolutions to cut the UN’s funding and move the Embassy to Jerusalem will likely require more time and take weeks to months. While Senator Ted Cruz has called on the U.S. to entirely suspend funding to the international body until measure 2234 is reversed, the Republican staffer noted: “We are not going to see a blanket ban on funding to the entire body. If anything happens in terms of limiting funding to the UN, you would see it to specific agencies or programs and not just US pulling our entire package from the UN.”  

“Going forward, Congress will take action against efforts at the UN or beyond that use Resolution 2334 to target Israel,” Senator Cardin stated when introducing the measure.

Obama: Pan-Islamic wolf in progressive clothing

The December 23, 2016 UN vote proves that President Barack Obama only paid lip service to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict during his eight years in office. Turns out that this proud progressive's real goal all along was to bring the last colonial outpost in the world to heel. 

Since it's not politically correct for a US President to call for the demise of the Jewish state, a death by a thousand UN resolutions will have to suffice.

Next stop: international sanctions against Israel.

The Obama administration's decision to abstain on UN Resolution 2334 has even outraged leading Congressional Democrats, who maintain that a two-state solution must be negotiated directly between the Israelis and Palestinians. 

However, even good liberals like Jerrold Nadler, Richard Blumenthal, Hakeem Jeffries, Adam Schiff, Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden are missing the point. The abstention wasn't merely a drastic change in tactics, meant to force Israel to accept the inevitability of a Palestinian state without direct negotiations. Rather, the UN vote was a vote for Arab rejectionism, a codification of a perpetual state of conflict between the oppressor Jews and the oppressed Muslims.

Single handedly, President Obama has sought to reverse the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that facilitated one of the great land grabs in history. As a result of this deal, Britain and France divvied up much of the post-World War I Middle East.

In the next significant example of colonial meddling in the Middle East, a Hashemite from Arabia, Prince Abdullah I, was convinced by Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill to not aid brother Faisal’s war against the new French Mandate in Syria.

In return, Abdullah I was rewarded with 75% of the new British Mandate of Palestine.

Long before the two-state solution was embraced by effete diplomats and tenured college professors, there was the 1936 British Peel Commission that would have divided the remaining 25% of Mandatory Palestine into two nations: one Arab, one Jewish.

Setting the stage for the next 80 years of Jewish compromises being met with Arab rejectionism, the expansionist minded Abdullah I spurned the deal, despite early Zionists leaders' reluctant acceptance of the Peel Commission.

United by a desire to rid the region of European Jewish interlopers, Arab leaders overcame their rivalries and joined forces to violently protest the British administration of the Palestine Mandate.

Another swipe against colonial intervention was the UN partition plan of 1947, which Zionist leaders approved and the Arab world reacted to by launching another war to make the region Judenrein.

However, desperate for international legitimacy, Israel continued to play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules of statecraft, instead of annexing Judea in Samaria in 1956, 1967, or 1973.

Yet basing international relations on a playbook written at 10 Downing Street inadvertently provided fodder for Barack Obama, Security of State John Kerry and other self-described progressives, who see the world through an anti-colonialist lens. Israel's desire to simply exist among the family of nations is perceived as a continuation of arbitrarily drawn imperial borders that are to blame for all that's wrong with the Middle East today.

Based on his outsourcing of US Middle East policy to Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey, along with his lackluster support for the Kurds, Christians and Jews in the Middle East, one can posit that Barack Obama is at peace with the idea of pan-Arabism. 

Guided by an anti-colonialist belief that rich European countries got rich by looting the indigenous populations of poor Middle Eastern countries, Obama took a small step to right this historic injustice at the United Nations, when he launched a direct assault on Israel's right to exist.

Netanyahu criminal investigation can start, Israel’s attorney general says

Police in three hours of questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collected enough information to launch a criminal investigation into fraud and graft charges, Israel’s attorney general said without detailing the evidence.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit released a statement late Monday evening after police from the fraud investigative unit questioned Netanyahu at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Police had worked for several days to reach a mutually agreed-upon time for the questioning.

Netanyahu reportedly is accused of accepting valuable gifts from businessmen, including longtime friend Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress. New evidence collected in recent weeks turned what was to be preliminary questioning into a full investigation, according to the attorney general’s statement.

“The claims that ultimately led to the decision to question Netanyahu came up three months ago as initial suspicions,” the statement said. “Since then, the police have made major efforts to examine them and find evidence to support them. The inquiry developed and branched out in directions different from the ones that initially launched it.”

The statement also listed at least three cases against Netanyahu that have been dropped.

“The nature of the investigation precludes us at this stage from giving details of the ongoing investigation but we will consider releasing more information from time to time according to developments,” the statement said.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

Lauder has admitted to giving Netanyahu gifts, including suits, as well as hospitality for one of his sons on trips outside of Israel. Lauder has said these were gifts that friends give to each other and serve no other purpose.

In a tweet Tuesday morning, Netanyahu reiterated that after years of investigating him and his family, police have come up with nothing.

“I repeat and say, there won’t be anything because there wasn’t anything,” he tweeted.

Police had announced in a tweet after the interrogation that they had questioned the prime minister at the official residence in Jerusalem.

Hundreds of Jews respond to John Kerry’s speech with West Bank solidarity tour

About 200 Jews from around the world toured the West Bank in response to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent speech warning of the dangers of settlement expansion.

The group, organized on short notice by Miami-based fashion designer Joseph Waks, visited Jewish communities and met with their leaders on Monday to show solidarity with the settlement movement. A few dozen of the participants flew in from various countries. Most were foreign citizens living in or visiting the country for Hanukkah, and a handful were native Israelis.