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March 2, 2016

Recent Controversies in Egypt Illustrate Anti-Israel Sentiment Still Prevalent

Recent controversies in Egypt illustrate the prevalence of anti-Israel sentiment in a country which has had a peace agreement with Israel since 1979.

The latest incident involved a dinner invitation by Egyptian Parliamentarian Tawfiq Okasha to Israeli Ambassador Haim Koren. Okasha, a TV personality who has a history of making anti-Semitic remarks on his show, was subsequently ousted from Egypt’s Parliament after being accused of engaging in normalization efforts towards Israel. He was also physically attacked byanother Parliamentarian, Kamal Ahmad, who hurled his shoe at Okasha in protest.In a video, Ahmad explained that his action was intended not only toward Okasha, but also toward the Knesset and the “Zionist Entity.” The Al-Yawm As-Sabi news site hosts a video game where players can use a shoe to hit Okasha across the face. At the top of the screen appears the title “Congratulations, Okasha”, and he is depicted with a black eye in the backdrop of the Israeli flag.

MP Tawfik Okasha (right) hosts Israeli ambassador Haim Koren.

MP Tawfik Okasha (right) hosts Israeli ambassador Haim Koren.

Another example of anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt occurred earlier this month when the Cairo International Book Fair featured an Israeli book, Arabian Nights.Com, which was written by Israel Army Radio’s Arab affairs analyst Jackie Hougie. Its inclusion resulted in Parliamentarian Muhammad Al-Masud demanding that Egypt’s Culture Minister launch an investigation into the decision to sell the book at the fair.

And a few weeks prior to that, Egyptian authorities ordered the canceling of a screening of Israeli film The Band’s Visit. The film, from 2007, tells the story of an Egyptian band arriving in Israel, and deals with the issue of coexistence between Israelis and Egyptians. When the issue became public, Mohammed Munir, the Governor of the Cairo District, ordered that the screening be canceled, and announced an investigation to determine which official had initially approved the film screening.

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February 3, 2016

Our New Forum For Ideas, ADL@SALON

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Salon-ADLLogo

I have always believed that it takes more than one person, one leader, or one institution to solve the toughest challenges. As I began my tenure as CEO six months ago, I realized that in order to achieve our timeless mission — to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure fair treatment and justice to all — we would need to harness the energies of innovation and discover new ways to sharpen our focus on the most relevant issues facing our community and our nation. We would need to broaden our tent, to attract the brightest people, and to welcome new ideas.

That is why I’m thrilled today to launch a new initiative aimed at opening our minds to the cutting edge, to bring together divergent voices into dialogue in an open and unfettered exchange.

We’re calling it ADL@Salon.

To meet the demands of a century defined by rapid change, it is my belief that ADL transform itself into a learning organization, one capable of continuous reinvention. In short, an organization that thrives on innovation.

In this still new century, we face what can seem insurmountable challenges without obvious solutions. As President Obama took note of just last week, anti-Semitism is undeniably rising around the world. We face failing and failed states breeding extremism, such as the growing influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and their affiliates around the Middle East. We face racism in many guises, from police brutality to education inequality.

Our political discourse is stained by appeals to stereotyping and scapegoating. We see hard won gains in women’s rights and LGBT rights at risk of being rolled back. Around the world and even here at home, we see troubling trends in campaigns to de-legitimize and demonize the state of Israel, even as the conflict between Israel and its neighbors seems as intractable as ever.

Building the coalitions that are willing to think through the solutions to these great challenges undoubtedly means widening the tent. It means gathering input and ideas from a greater range of voices, even those with whom we might disagree.

As hatred and extremism migrate to the uncharted realm of the internet, as the very definition of social movements has been fundamentally transformed by new modes of communication and community, we must build the engines that spark new ideas and new approaches.

Inspired by the intense exchanges in European cafés that led to inventions and revolutions in politics and science which shaped the modern world, ADL@Salon aims to bring together thought leaders across the broad spectrum of our work to engage in high level and off-the-record conversations in order to infuse new ideas and approaches for combating hatred and prejudice in our world.

The inaugural ADL@Salon will take place today at our national headquarters in New York.  Harnessing the expertise of leading scholars and foreign policy practitioners, we will look forward to assess what the future holds in store for the Middle East, and how U.S. policy should respond to these trends.

Co-sponsored by our friends at the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development, a public policy think-tank headquartered in Belgrade and New York, our aim is not to broadcast our discussions broadly, but harness these and inform our new directions and positions.

ADL@Salon is the start of a new way of approach at ADL. Future partners in our conversations come from across a broad array of fields—from scholars to advocates, policy professionals to business leaders. We will consider the challenges of the 21st century’s civil rights agenda. We will think deeply about the relationship between the United States and Israel in these times of change. We will welcome the entrepreneurs and innovators of Silicon Valley into conversation to challenge our thinking about how we approach social problems.

What if ADL can be the place that inspires brave thinking? What if we can bring together the minds that lead us smartly toward our “big bets?” I believe that through dialogue and the exchange of ideas and information, we can transform our response to 21st century challenges.

As the leading organization fighting anti-Semitism and defending the civil rights of all, I believe ADL is poised to inspire great change. That is what ADL@Salon is truly about.

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January 28, 2016

Crossing the Line: When Criticism of Israel Becomes Anti-Semitic

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This article orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Task Force Protestors

Protesters at Task Force Conference in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wake of a protest against a reception featuring an Israeli community group at a recent LGBTQ conference, there has been widespread controversy. We have read blog posts and articles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was perhaps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and organizers.  They are some of our nation’s leading advocates, working to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for justice and equality.

Unfortunately, though, this fissure is not a new experience.  Since starting as the CEO of ADL last summer, I personally have heard from many college students that their Jewish faith renders them pariahs on their campuses – unless and until they affirmatively denounce Israel.

Campus Hillels and other Jewish organizations that have long worked with LGBTQ campus groups, student of color organizations, and other progressive clubs on campus to host film festivals, panels, and other events increasingly are being shut out, rejected from participating, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other students are not being subjected to a litmus test on their views on Israel, Jewish students have been singled out and questioned about their objectivity and position on the issue.

As racial tensions flared across the country the past few years, we heard anecdotes from Jewish racial justice advocates that they were called “kikes” or targeted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epithets, they were told they need to understand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No government is immune from criticism. Surely neither the U.S. government nor the government of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have criticized policies and practices of Israeli leadership when we felt appropriate to do so.

We recognize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will condemn Israel. That is a reality. That is their right. We disagree – vigorously – with their accusations of pinkwashing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demonize Israel.  And we will speak out, challenge their mischaracterizations, and dismantle their indictments with facts and truths, as is our right.

But when that criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will condemn it. It is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially not in social justice circles.

To be specific, when a person conflates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peoples, it is anti-Semitic.

And when protesters chant “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appropriately interpreted by most people as a call for the erasure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giving protestors the benefit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their message to be anti-Semitic. However, regardless of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when students, individuals, or organizations raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, disregarded, or written off. Israel’s critics literally have written best-selling books decrying their so-called inability to criticize Israel.

But President Obama himself noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he eloquently reminded, “When any Jews anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond.. ‘We are all Jews.’ ”

Indeed, we know that women are best positioned to define sexism, people of color to define racism, and LGBTQ people to define homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. But, does this mean that all women must reach consensus on what offends them? All people of color? Everyone in LGBTQ communities? Hardly.

So too, we Jews are best situated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach consensus on the definition. Our millennial experience with intolerance demands the same acknowledgement as other forms of bigotry. Indeed, it is the collective responsibility of activists and organizers across the ideological spectrum to stop and listen when someone says,  “You’ve crossed the line.”

Standing up for rights of disempowered people is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But marginalizing and wounding others in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our ability to find common ground in places where our collective strength could do so much good.

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