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September 6, 2016

ADL at the UN: Providing Expertise on Stemming Global Anti-Semitism

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and her counterparts from Canada, Israel and the European Union will host a day-long High Level Forum on Global Anti-Semitism on September 7th at the U.N.  The gathering builds on last year’s first-ever U.N General Assembly session on anti-Semitism in January, 2015, and brings together officials, community leaders and business leaders to make concrete recommendations to U.N. Member countries on how to more effectively counter anti-Semitism.

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Part 1, including 12 noon session


Part 2



ADL experts will address the forum and make recommendations in areas like combatting online anti-Semitic harassment and the need for broad, diverse coalitions to advocate for countermeasures.

It is important for political leaders to consistently condemn and marginalize anti-Semitism in the U.N.  But the true success of these efforts can best be measured by the number of countries that act on and implement the recommendations made.

The U.N. has been a source of mixed feelings for the Jewish community.  Although the struggle against the persecution of Jews was a touchstone for the creation of the U.N. and some of its foundational human rights instruments and treaties, it became a forum where efforts to address anti-Semitism or even Holocaust remembrance met with resistance. The over 15 years when the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution was on the books was further alienating. Even as anti-Semitism flared, persistent efforts to sideline and dismiss the danger or evident existence of anti-Semitism by blocs of countries like the Soviet Union and later the Organization of the Islamic Conference kept the issue off the U.N. agenda.

It was only in 2004 that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan addressed an event on anti-Semitism and educational efforts to combat it.  Incrementally and with robust U.S. leadership, the U.N. has begun to address anti-Semitism as part of its human rights agenda.

There is no one forum or approach to magically eradicate anti-Semitism and bigotry. Even in countries where the arsenal of tools is very robust, anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents can still be prevalent.  Governments and civil society have to collaborate to demand action now and for the long haul.

While it’s important and notable that this high-level forum on anti-Semitism is being held at the U.N., challenges remain with the U.N.’s attitude towards this and related issues, including the body’s treatment of Israel. Hopefully this event will resonate with U.N. member states and lead to positive change.

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September 6, 2016

America’s Religious Freedom Safeguards Advance Pluralism

BurkiniOver the last month how nations address religious garb has been making the news.  So-called “’Burkini’ Bans” enacted by 30 French municipalities are causing controversy. These bans adopted in part to be “’respectful of good morals and of secularism’” prohibit “a wide range of modest dress” at public beaches, including the Burkini which is a full-body bathing suit worn by observant Muslim women who follow Islamic modesty codes.  France’s top French administrative court and other lower courts have suspended these bans, but the prime minster continues to stand by them and public opinion on the issue is divided.  In Canada, the Royal Mounted Police recently announced that observant Muslim Mounties may wear hijabs.  These controversies and developments provide an opportunity to examine how the United States approaches religious freedom issues.

From its founding, the United States aspired to safeguard religious freedom for all, which was truly revolutionary.  This aspiration, however, does not mean that our nation has an unblemished record of religious inclusion.  Although there are countless examples of individuals and communities throughout our history embracing persons of other faiths, America has an ugly history of religious intolerance and issues of religious discrimination persist.  But unlike many other nations, in the United States there are formidable and effective laws prohibiting religious discrimination and requiring accommodations for the religiously observant.

The right to freedom of religion is so central to American democracy that it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That Amendment protects religious freedom in two ways.  Our Free Exercise Clause protects the autonomy of houses of worship from government interference and empowers all individuals with the right to follow any faith or no faith.  Our Establishment Clause separates government from religion by prohibiting official advancement, endorsement or coercion of religion.  Furthermore, Article VI of the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office.

During the 20th Century, the federal courts and Congress applied these principles to the States and to private conduct.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits religious discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.  Indeed, its workplace protections require employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices and observances of employees.  And today, virtually all state and local anti-discrimination laws also prohibit religious discrimination, as well as require religious accommodations in the workplace.

So in the United States, a municipal law such as the ones in France targeting religious observances or practices, including wearing modest dress at the beach, would be patently unconstitutional and would violate federal, state or local laws.  And, generally speaking, the burden is on a public or private entity to justify why a religiously observant person cannot wear a hijab, yarmulke, turban or cross in the workplace or public accommodations, including restaurants, stores, theatres or recreational areas.

For instance, in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a major department store’s “dress policy” was an insufficient reason not to a hire a Muslim woman who wore a headscarf for religious reasons.   And in 2013, a federal agency that enforces the 1964 Civil Rights Act resolved a case with a national fast food franchisee for an observant Christian woman whose religious beliefs prohibit her from wearing pants.   Under the settlement, she would be permitted to wear a black skirt instead of black pants as normally required by the employer’s dress policy.

Furthermore, in America there are strong religious freedom safeguards even within institutional settings.   In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas Department of Correction “no beards policy,” which prohibited a Muslim inmate from wearing a short beard.  The Court found that the safety and security issues raised by the Department were insufficient to justify the policy under federal law.  And just this year, after a federal court initially ruled in favor of a Sikh U.S. Army Captain, the Army granted him the religious accommodation of wearing a beard, turban, and uncut hair.

Also, it is common for the religiously observant to be accommodated without the force of law.  For example, at 2016 Rio Olympic games it was a non-issue for American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed to compete wearing a hijab.  Rather, her winning a bronze medal was celebrated in the United States and beyond.

American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed

American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed

Although religious bias cannot be legislated away, these legal proscriptions have been an invaluable tool for successfully integrating American society because over time limitations on conduct can shape attitudes.  Legal prohibitions on religious discrimination send the resounding official message that unequal treatment based on faith is unacceptable.  Their mandate of equal access to the work and marketplace brings together people from diverse religious beliefs and traditions.  Through daily interactions with work colleagues, vendors, customers—and yes, even beach-goers– most people come to realize that they have much in common with persons they once considered “the other” and learn to accept and value differences.

Our nation’s robust religious freedom protections are exceptional and distinguish America from numerous countries around the globe.  They undoubtedly have been a cornerstone for creating a truly pluralistic and welcoming society.

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August 29, 2016

New ISIS Propaganda Continues to Encourage Easy Attacks

ISIS propaganda video Deter the Enemy from Harming Your State encourages attacks

Promo for the new ISIS propaganda video

Two newly released ISIS propaganda pieces  encourage the group’s supporters in the West to commit attacks using unconventional weapons, a message that has become a standard for ISIS and has increasingly been adopted by Al Qaeda as well.

A 19-minute long propaganda video circulated on August 23 via social media and Telegram made this call clear. Titled “Deter the Enemy from Harming Your State,” the video, created by ISIS’s Khayr Wilayah Media branch, called on followers “who are unable to make hijrah (travel to join ISIS) and join their brothers the mujahidin (fighters) in the Islamic State” to commit attacks using any means available. “Shake off the dust of negligence,” the video’s narrator intones, accompanied by English subtitles, “and do not try to excuse yourself due to lack of weapons or lethal tools, as you have the best example in the blessed attack in Nice.”

Using language that closely paralleled a 2014 speech by ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al Adnani – which was the first major instance of such calls – the video’s narrator  states, “If you lack a bomb or a bullet, take a single American or French kafir (apostate), or any of their allies, then smash his head with a stone, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or push him off a cliff, or strangle him, or poison him, but do not slacken or become weak.”

The video also attempts to exploit anti-Israel sentiment to encourage these attacks, a common tactic in terrorist propaganda. While showing video and images of alleged brutality by Israeli soldiers, the narrator criticizes Syrian preacher Ali Al-Halabi and other religious leaders who have argued against the killing of Jewish civilians, and contrasted those moderate views with ISIS’s assertion that all non-Muslims who are not subordinated by ISIS can be killed. By juxtaposing this with the images of Israelis, the video can be seen as implying that only ISIS takes the side of the Palestinians – and that killing civilians on ISIS’s behalf is  the only way one can be on the side of the Palestinians.

In a separate statement on Telegram,also released on August 23, the pro-ISIS media group Nashir Foundation similarly urges the use of unconventional weapons to commit terror attacks in the West. The statement includes a list of nine suggested plots, ranging from  the use of poison and creating dangerous driving conditions, to calling in false threats in order to create panic and waste resources.

This is not a novel call to action. Over the summer of 2016, several attackers in Western countries used commonplace items as weapons;  in  Nice, the perpetrator drove a truck into a crowd of people, while in other European cities and in the U.S., attacks were attempted or carried out with knives, machetes and axes.

ADL has compiled a list of prior examples of terrorist propaganda that encourages attacks with common items

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