New York, NY, February 16, 2011 … The street protests that led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and shook Arab capitals from Tunis to Sana are contributing to a "new Middle East" where ordinary citizens are successfully agitating for democracy and reform, experts told a gathering of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) leaders last week in Florida.
But the revolution in Egypt has also raised questions about what the future holds for the State of Israel and its relations with its neighbors.
"With Mubarak's departure, we are now officially in a new Middle East. Let's look for the opportunities," said Yossi Klein Halevi, an author and fellow and the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
"The question now is stopping the Muslim Brotherhood from becoming an integral part of the transition process," Mr. Halevi said in an address to more than 200 Jewish community leaders from across the country. "It won't be this year or next year, but the more they insinuate themselves into the transition process, the closer they'll get to their undeniable goal of ruling Egypt."
Mr. Halevi was one of several experts on the Middle East and Israel to address ADL's National Executive Committee Meeting, February 10-12 in Palm Beach, Florida. The annual meeting was chaired by Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, said events unfolding in Egypt were being watched in the U.S. with a mixture of optimism and sympathy for the pro-democracy movement, as well as a measure of anxiety about what the transformation could mean for Egypt's relations with the United States' most important ally in the region, Israel.
"The irony of this movement toward democracy is that it is one which we find difficult to embrace, because it triggers such anxiety for the future," said Mr. Foxman. "Our historic reality doesn't permit us the luxury of embracing all of these wonderful fantasies of what should be."
Anti-Israel Activism on Campus
Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism continue to be a concern on college and university campuses in the U.S., a panel of experts told the ADL leaders gathered in Florida.
Wayne Firestone, President & CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, offered his assessment of the challenges facing Jewish supporters of Israel on campus from organized student groups who are actively promoting boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel.
"This is a different battlefront that utilizes asymmetric warfare," Mr. Firestone said. "We should not be surprised in our open society that the campus has been utilized -- and in some cases, hijacked -- by some of the most extreme voices in American society. But it is not a new phenomenon."
What is new, Firestone said, is that this generation of anti-Israel activists is working with technology and other forms of communication, including social networking and Internet video, in new ways. The challenge, he said, is to counter that activism by using "our influence and our allies to ensure that the Israel that we know and love is actually advanced in the eyes of those on campus."
As part of the campus discussion, moderated by Michael Rubinstein, NEC member from Chicago, Oren Segal, Co-Director of the ADL Center on Extremism, gave an overview of the major protest groups involved in anti-Israel activism on campus and their extreme tactics, which have in some instances led to expressions of anti-Semitism.
Latino Jewish Relations: Working Together for Change
Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of the Miami-Dade Schools, the fourth largest public school district in America, described what he sees as the vital importance of forging strong Latino-Jewish relations. Jews and Latinos share many similarities, he said, as minority groups who have similar histories as oppressed immigrant communities seeking economic and political freedom in the U.S.
Mr. Carvalho, who recently took part in a Hispanic leaders' mission to Israel sponsored by ADL, described why he believes the state-mandated Holocaust curriculum in Florida resonates so strongly with Hispanic students.
"It is part of who we are. And why in Miami-Dade? Sixty-four percent of our students are Hispanic," Mr. Carvalho said. "There are Mexicans, there are Nicaraguans, there are Dominicans, there are Puerto Ricans. And, my friends, every single one of them at some point has experienced indifference, hatred or bigotry. Our ability to teach, whether the history of the Holocaust, or to celebrate Florida Jewish history, is connecting to Hispanic students in a way that they can understand, because the road many have traveled is the road they travel now. They understand that. They get it."
Challenges to Jewish Communities in South America
Alberto Milkewitz, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Sao Paolo, Brazil, gave an overview of the security and other challenges facing the Jewish communities of South America, and described manifestations of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel action in many of those countries.
Honors and Commendations
The following awards and commendations were presented during ADL's annual meeting of the National Executive Committee in Palm Beach, FL:
·The League posthumously honored a Polish Catholic woman who at great personal risk sheltered a group of Jews on her farm during the height of the Nazi occupation of Poland. In recognition of her bravery and selfless acts during the Holocaust, the League honored Francisca Halamajowa with its Courage to Care Award, which was accepted by her granddaughters Grace Kucharzyk and Jolanta Steron.
·Dr. Matthias Küntzel was presented with the ADL Paul Ehrlich-Gunther K. Schwerin Human Rights Award. A German political scientist and writer who has laid bare the genocidal intent of Iran's nuclear program and exposed a link between the anti-Semitism of the Nazis and of the Iranian regime, Dr. Küntzel was honored for his ongoing research in the roots and manifestations of modern Jew-hatred.
ADL Adopts Resolutions on Egypt and Birthright Citizenship
The following resolutions were adopted by the ADL National Executive Committee:
Egypt: ADL adopted a resolution calling on the U.S. and the international community to provide Egypt with the necessary support and assistance in its historic efforts to achieve the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Egyptian people for a more open and inclusive society by improving democratic processes, developing and implementing structural, legal, and political reforms, building democratic institutions, and enabling the growth of a vibrant civil society. The League also called on the U.S., regional leaders, and the international community to support and assist Egypt to continue to fulfill its important role as a leading promoter of regional stability, moderation and security in the Middle East and to ensure that Egypt will continue to uphold its peace agreement with Israel. More>>
Birthright Citizenship: The League adopted a resolution to oppose federal and state efforts to eliminate the right to automatic citizenship for anyone born in the United States, as defined by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. ADL resolved to "oppose state and federal efforts to amend or interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to eliminate the right to birthright citizenship." More>>