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Letter to the Editor

B’nai B’rith continues to be vibrant

I attended B’nai B’rith International’s annual Leadership Forum, held this year in Washington, D.C., in mid-September.

Of the 70 delegates attending, 11 were from South America, two from Europe and a married couple from Canada. This is quite a different feel from having several hundred delegates swarming around one of the big Las Vegas casino hotels as was the case it its heyday, but I’m proud to say B’nai B’rith International is alive and well.

We learned anti-Semitism in South America is increasing. Iran has funded anti-Israel propaganda efforts. Under both Presidents Chavez and Maduro, Venezuela has used anti-Israel propaganda as a tool to extend its own influence throughout the region. Recently Chile has recognized Palestine as a state and has joined a bloc of South American countries that oppose Israel. While Chile has approximately 16,000 Jews, it is now also the home of between 450,000 and 500,000 descendants of Palestinians. The government of Argentina is no longer pushing the investigation of the AMIT bombing, nor is it pursuing the assignation of the special prosecutor who was about to file indictments concerning the bombing and cooperation between the government and Iran. South America is not a good place for Jews.

The forum highlighted several promising initiatives. The most interesting was a new partnership with AEPi Fraternity. The fraternity has pledged $100,000 to B’nai B’rith’s general fund and has already paid half of that pledge.

Some discussions centered on the fact that many of the most challenging problems of anti-Semitism are occurring on college campuses. Not only has Saudi Arabia continued to endow chairs of Arabic studies to spread anti-Semitic propaganda, but through inadvertence federal funds have been diverted under Title VI of the aid to education to fund anti-Israel propaganda. At UCLA alone, $75 million of Title VI funds have gone to the Arabic Studies Center, where 93 percent of the programs are anti-Israel. A major initiative of B’nai B’rith has been to monitor Title VI programs around the country, evaluate programs of various Arabic Studies Centers and to protest misuse of Title VI funds.

At a national level, B’nai B’rith has made senior housing a major focus.  In addition to operating senior housing in 27 cities, the organization has lobbied for a three-pronged approach for federal legislation. (1) Planning to maintain elderly at home can reduce cost of medical care. (2) In-place housing is much cheaper than nursing homes. (3) Maintaining existing housing is cheaper than building new housing to accommodate elderly. Although the Obama administration is getting ready to end its term of office, BBI was invited to the White House to share recommendations for improving federal assistance to housing this past August. BBI is currently developing a presentation on senior housing to present to the new president’s administration when it takes over in January.

The takeaway from the forum, for me, was that we are indeed fortunate to be able to live in a vibrant and safe Jewish community in America.