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May 11, 2016

Iran’s Second International Holocaust Cartoon Exhibition Opens On May 14

On May 14, 2016, the second international Holocaust Cartoon Contest exhibition will open in Iran, with the first place winner – reportedly to be announced in June – receiving a large cash prize. According to reports in the Iranian press, the May 14th date was chosen to coincide with Nakba Day (catastrophe day), the term used by Palestinian to refer to the events surrounding Israel’s independence in 1948.

The contest reportedly received over 800 submissions from artists in 50 countries, and the exhibition will feature 100 works, as well as 50 profile cartoons on the subject of “Netanyahu”, a reference to the Israeli Prime Minister.

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In a recent New Yorker magazine interview, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif denied accusations that the Holocaust contest is supported by the Iranian government. However, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, the secretary of the NGO responsible for contest Massoud Shojaei Tabatabaei stated that the contest organizers cooperate with the Iranian Ministry of Culture, and that everyone in the Iranian regime “knows that this exhibition is highly respected.”

Iran held its first Holocaust cartoon contest back in 2006 under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, receiving 204 entries from Iran and around the world. During his tenure as President, Ahmadinejad repeatedly used his position to promote Holocaust denial, a practice that continues to this day in parts of Iran. The 2006 contest’s winning submission depicted Israel constructing a wall, painted with an image of the infamous railway leading to the gates of Auschwitz, around the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem. Other winners included images of Palestinians in concentration camp garb, the “myth of the gas chambers” and a Holocaust museum in the shape of a swastika.

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April 20, 2016

Why I’m Speaking to Students at J Street U

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium on April 17, 2016.

J Street U

This morning, I will speak to students at the J Street U National Assembly, the annual gathering of more than 200 young leaders from across the country who converge on Washington D.C. to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to exchange views about what they can do on campus to advance a two-state solution. J Street U reached out to me seeking to engage with the Jewish community, eager to establish a relationship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which it has never had.

As I begin to chart the course of my leadership, I felt it was important that I accept this invitation. I feel this way because of my conviction that it is vital to engage with all members of our community, even and especially those with whom we might have disagreements.

We can’t talk only to those who are aligned with us on every point.

In our time of hyper-polarization and the erosion of civil discourse, I believe it’s imperative that the organized Jewish leadership models the traits that we want to define the broader politics in our country. When I started my tenure as CEO, the country was locked in a bitter debate over the Iran deal. More than anything, the experience showed me that our community suffers from an inability to thoughtfully and respectfully engage across political divides.

I saw it firsthand as Jews who supported the deal as well as those who opposed the deal both were attacked viciously for their views, particularly by fellow Jews. I was dismayed by the self-destructive behavior — taking out newspaper ads, plastering municipal buses, excoriating others with ad homenim attacks — such attacks don’t advance the debate. They diminish all of us.

For a people who elevated the notion of dissent as a bedrock principle of our religious practice, the unwillingness to countenance opposing views is counter to the best traditions of our people. As a leader, I will not engage in these tactics. Instead, as the CEO of ADL, I will be an active advocate for civility and avoid the politics of personal destruction.

Building from this frame, I see my remarks today as a major opportunity for ADL to accomplish two things.

The first is to deliver the message that, at ADL, we are committed to ensuring Israel remains a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic state, as enshrined in its proclamation of independence. It was that remarkable Zionist vision expressed from the cradle of Israel’s birth that captured the imagination of the Jewish people and the world, the notion that Israel would be a country unlike all others:

“…based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…”

Frayed Israel Flag

That is why ADL has had a policy of support for a two-state solution for decades. This means advocating for the legitimacy and security of the Jewish state even as we support Palestinian dignity and equality of Arab citizens in Israel. These ideas should not be in conflict. Rather, they are consistent with our centennial commitment to civil rights and social justice.

Secondly, I see an opportunity to deliver an important message to these impassioned students who are galvanized by the imperative to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. At ADL, we equally want to see a resolution of the conflict. Israel must take real, meaningful measures to promote an end to the impasse. However, the idea that peace can be brought about only by applying pressure to one side of the conflict — Israel — is a strategy bound to backfire.

Further isolating Israel at a time of great local tumult and regional volatility will only reinforce the political psychology of Israelis who eye concessions made in the context of negotiations with the Palestinians as inevitably endangering them. And this fear is real. It is substantiated in the unraveling of the modern Middle East, the rise of violent non-state actors committed to the destruction of Israel, terrorist groups like HezbollahISIS and Hamas, and the regional power of Iran whose revolutionary ideology remains firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. As Israelis look around they see regional chaos engulfing their neighborhood: wholesale slaughter in Syria, chaos in Sinai, challenges to the stability of their friends in Jordan. Any reasonable approach to solving the conflict in order to be credible in the eyes of Israel must bear in mind this new reality.

Given these facts, it is only the constancy of American guarantees of moral and physical support that will undergird an eventual agreement. And undermining that support endangers the prospects of peace. While a responsible approach should recognize that there are steps that Israel must take to ensure the viability of a two-state solution, a reasonable approach must have expectations of the Palestinians as well.

Ignoring the steps they also must take, compromises they too must make to achieve peace, does a deep disservice toward that goal.

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The fact is that the Palestinians, under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, twice rejected serious Israeli peace offers, once in 2008 during direct talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen, and again under the Obama Administration — an administration which I was a part of. When President Obama offered President Abbas an American framework document for the resolution of the final status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abbas decided to ignore it entirely. That is an inconvenient fact for some who wish to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a simplistic story of Israel’s unwillingness to make peace. But it is a fact that cannot be ignored.

The champions of Palestinian self-determination must hold the Palestinian leadership to task for its failures as well.

But even as I will make these points, I want to stress that despite this, we must find the areas where we can be partners.

It is vital to be in conversation with these students and the next generation of American Jewish leaders because it they who can credibly broker critical conversations on campuses rooted in a commitment to peace, while unmasking the damaging effects of BDS and anti-normalization.

The imperatives for social justice today do not lie in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations alone. We cannot let our differences over how to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace keep us from working together to address so many other challenges facing our nation. There are vital issues of structural racism that we must address now, matters of pressing racial injustice that wrack our own society. There are demagogues rising to power in Europe and the introduction of a terrible new type of political discourse that threatens our fundamental values.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 with an enduring mission that still rings true today: to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all. For more than 100 years, we have worked to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry even as we equally have fought for civil rights and social justice for Jews and other marginalized people.

But it always has been a shared struggle, one that we have not waged ourselves but that has been a product of alliances, coalitions and partnerships. And the work is not yet complete. There is still much to do be done. Hopefully we can do it, together.

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April 20, 2016

As Passover Approaches Temple Mount Tensions Remain

With Passover approaching, Israeli authorities are gearing up for potential tensions over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary.

The sacred space has long been the focal point of religious and political tensions and conflicts. The responsibility for the site is shared by Israel, which has sovereignty over the site, and Jor­dan, whose Cus­to­dian Min­istry has man­aged the site since the 1994 peace treaty between Jor­dan and Israel. The agreement includes a clause restricting Jews from praying on the Mount, known informally as the “status-quo.” The Waqf, an Islamic religious trust, overseas the day-to-day operations at the site.

Credit: Andrew Shiva

Credit: Andrew Shiva

There have been many flashpoints.  For years, there have been accusations among Palestinians and across the region of a conspiracy by Israel to “Judaize” Jerusalem, particularly when it comes to this shared holy site. In 2000, then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site, which the Palestinians used as an excuse to launch the Second Intifada. Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group, even praised the recent bus bombing in Jerusalem as a “natural reaction” to Israel’s “desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque” located on the site.

In recent years tensions relating to the site have intensified, with a noticeable increase in the number of Jews visiting and secretly praying on the Mount, a violation of the status-quo. Among them, Israeli government ministers and politicians, some of whom have called for Jews to be allowed to pray on the Mount.

And over the past week, other incidents have focused attention on the sacred space.  Last week, the Temple Mount Institute, a Jewish messianic organization, conducted a secret Jewish wedding on the Mount, which was filmed and posted on social media. While it may sound strange to condemn a Jewish wedding at a holy Jewish site, the incident was part of the larger, potentially explosive effort by some on the religious right, to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.

And from the Palestinian side, there was the adoption by the UNESCO executive board of a highly-biased, one-sided resolution on Jerusalem which ignored the Jewish connection to holy sites like the Temple Mount and Western Wall. The resolution described both sites only in their Muslim/Arabic names, alleged Israel was planting fake Jewish graves, and criticized, on political grounds, a recent Israeli decision to build an egalitarian prayer area in the Western Wall Plaza. Shockingly, a number of Western countries voted to support the resolution, including France, Spain and Sweden.

The Israeli government, much to its credit, has taken steps to reduce tensions, including banning all government ministers and Knesset members from visiting the Mount. They have also worked closely with US and Jordanian governments on a plan to install surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount, which would help refute claims that Israel is violating the status quo. In an unfortunate development however, Jordan announced this week that it was dropping this plan due to objections from the Palestinians who were “skeptical” about the initiative. Palestinians had also placed notices on the Mount threatening to smash any security cameras which were installed. This is not an encouraging development.

In the ancient tradition of Passover, Jews were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and bring a special Passover sacrifice to the Jewish Temple. While the sacrifice is no longer practiced, the next week will bring many tens of thousands of Jews to the Old City of Jerusalem and Western Wall area adjacent to the Temple Mount for prayers, blessings and celebrations.

While Israel must continue efforts to ensure the status-quo remain unchanged, the Palestinians must refrain from further escalating the tensions by using the Mount as a political issue to attack Israel. Any serious escalation of tensions over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary – over Passover and beyond – could turn into a potentially explosive and violent situation.

 

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