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My family fled Soviet anti-Semitism, never expecting to encounter it in the US



My family fled Soviet anti-Semitism, never expecting to encounter it in the US

The last few weeks must become a unifying clarion call for all Americans—Jews and non-Jews alike—to keep Jew-hatred incompatible with the American way of life.

For Jewish refugees like my parents and me, fortunate to have been welcomed by the United States after leaving the Soviet Union, it’s been shocking to witness the recent outbreak of anti-Semitic violence on the streets of the country we revere.

The world’s oldest hatred has haunted the Jewish people as long as Jews have been a people. We have been enslaved in Egypt, kicked out of our biblical home in Israel by the Romans, burned at the stake in Medieval Spain, massacred in Eastern European pogroms and just about exterminated by the Nazis.

My own family has been victimized by virulent anti-Semitism. My great-grandmother died of cold and starvation on the streets a Nazi ghetto. My grandparents, with whom I shared a room for the first 11 years of my life, barely survived the Holocaust.

My parents endured the bleak, daily anti-Semitism of the Soviet era, which attempted to snuff out our Jewish heritage. It was not uncommon for me to be called a zhid (“kike”) in the schoolyard. That’s why we desperately wanted to get out of the USSR and go to the U.S., the goldeneh medina (“golden land” in Yiddish). Eventually we did.

From the moment my parents, grandparents and I set foot on American soil on Aug. 13, 1981 (my little sister, who was born in the U.S. three months later, could—as my parents pointed out—could become president), we knew that this nation was special.

Religious tolerance was a big revelation, because it was so mundane here. My family settled in a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood in New Jersey. Every interaction with either “American Americans” (as we referred to those who spoke English without an accent) or immigrants like us reinforced the notion that in the United States, being Jewish would not be an obstacle. Everyone had a shot at realizing their dreams. Even Jews like us.

For most of our four decades in the United States, anti-Semitism seemed to be a distant problem. Over the years, we’ve come to expect Jew-hatred from the likes of David Duke, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, but they were outliers. No one around us thought that their Jew-hatred reflected the views of a significant group of Americans. However, in recent years, we’ve witnessed anti-Semitism creep closer to home.

In the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and all across the European continent, anti-Semitic attacks have increased at an alarming rate. Echoes of Holocaust-era Europe have pushed tens of thousands of European Jews to seek refuge in Israel. We, in the U.S., have watched these events from across the pond and, as much as we were disturbed, told ourselves, “It can’t happen here.”

But it is happening here.

The anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched to delegitimize Israel, has become a progressive cause célèbre. BDS has now metastasized across American college campuses, where it terrorizes Jewish students. The desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues has become all too commonplace.

In recent years, we watched torch-bearing marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia chant “Jews will not replace us.” Then, we witnessed the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California and the kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey.

American Jews were already on edge by mid-May of this year, when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iran-backed terrorist groups dedicated to another Jewish genocide, fired more than 4,300 rockets at Israel in the span of 11 days. The Jewish state’s defensive response spawned a whole new wave of anti-Semitism.

A group of progressive elected officials, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, recklessly inflamed anti-Jewish sentiment from the floor of the House of Representatives and on social media—so much so that some dubbed them the “Hamas Caucus,” including myself.

The Khodorkovsky family, just before they left the Soviet Union for the United States in 1981. Photo: Courtesy.

Hundreds of attacks on Jews and incidents of vandalism at synagogues have been reported in New York, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. On Twitter, more than 17,000 tweets were detected using a version of the phrase “Hitler was right” between May 7 and May 14. Altogether in 2020 and so far in 2021, the Anti-Defamation League reported 7,528 incidents of extremism or anti-Semitism in the United States.

I spoke to my parents about this explosion of anti-Semitism. My dad reflected, “We expected anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. But in America? I can’t believe it.” My mom’s response was haunting: “This is just the beginning.”

What has been even more dispiriting is the fact that 40 years since we arrived in the land of the free, my kids have now experienced anti-Semitism themselves—the woke kind. In the name of so-called “white privilege,” they’ve been ostracized by some of their peers for publicly expressing Jewish pride and support of Israel.

Their gradual recognition that, by virtue of being born to Jewish parents, they are now a target for baseless but, sadly, ancient hatred has been hurtful for me and my wife, a granddaughter of Holocaust victims herself.

In his 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, George Washington laid out America’s core tenet of religious tolerance: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The last few weeks must become a unifying clarion call for all Americans—Jews and non-Jews alike—to keep anti-Semitism incompatible with the American way of life. Each of us has the responsibility to ensure that the nation Washington envisioned, and those like the Khodorkovskys continue to yearn for, “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” The next generation of Americans deserves no less.

Len Khodorkovsky is a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state.





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ECA boss lists paths to fighting poverty in Africa



ECA boss lists paths to fighting poverty in Africa

Africa must lead the charge in mobilising domestic resources to recover from multiple economic and social crises which have deepened poverty and widened inequality on the continent, says the acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Mr. Antonio Pedro.

Pedro, who made the call in a statement on Thursday by the Communications Session of the ECA, also warned that Africa risks missing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pedro was addressing participants at the 41st meeting of the Committee of Experts, ahead of Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, holding in Addis Ababa.

The ECA chief reminded the participants that: “Africa currently leads in global poverty.”

Pedro cautioned that without bold financial and climate action, Africa would be locked into a poverty trap.

“With more than half of the world’s poor – 54.8 percent in 2022 being in Africa, the continent had overtaken South Asia with 37.6 percent.

“COVID-19 outbreak had pushed 62 million people into poverty in just one year, with an additional 18 million estimated to have joined their ranks by the end of 2022.

“As many as 149 million non-poor remain at high risk of falling into poverty,” he said.

Pedro noted that 695 million people in Africa were either poor or face the risk of falling into poverty.

“Women and girls remain particularly vulnerable, and we are facing a potential reversal of the hard-won gains made on gender equity.

“Africa cannot just stay the course and hope that it gets better. It must lead the charge,” Pedro said.

He said the challenges were, however, not insurmountable if Africa could implement systemic change and build resilient and sustainable systems, shifting away from a primary focus on efficiency that had dominated past decades.

Pedro said investments in sustainable building up capital in critical assets including human, infrastructure, and natural resources were needed to provide an environment that could facilitate achieving the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.

“Therefore, governments must design strategies that simultaneously integrate economic, social and environmental objectives.

“First, we need to finance our development,” Pedro said.

He emphasised that getting the macroeconomic fundamentals right could unlock the potential of home-grown solutions.

“Nonetheless, Africa needs a fairer and more just global financial architecture that responds to its needs.

”Many countries currently cannot access international financial markets because of rising interest rates and unworkable existing debt relief mechanisms,” he said.

He noted that Africa must aggressively pursue sustainable industrialisation and economic diversification to transform its natural resources into tangible benefits for its people, explaining that the battery and electric value chain development was a case in point.

“Put simply, our wealth in natural resources must work for the majority, not the few. To get to this point, we must be intentional in our approach,” Pedro said.

He cited that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could increase intra-Africa trade.

“We must take center stage on climate action. While we cannot overlook the fact that we are disproportionately suffering on impact and financing alike, we have significant opportunities to rebalance the scales on climate finance,” he said.

Pedro noted that Africa rainforests and the development of its carbon markets, for instance, could unleash an estimated 82 billion dollars a year,  in value at 120 dollars per ton of CO2 sequestered, and create 167 million additional jobs.

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AfCFTA Boosts Intra-African trade by 20% — UNECA



The Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) increased intra-African trade by 20 percent in 2022.

This is against the commission’s prediction of 52 percent by 2022.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Ninth Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Niamey, Niger, Antonio Pedro, Acting Executive Secretary, UNECA, said the level of trade had increased.

Pedro was then asked if the commission had achieved the objective of 52 percent intra-African trade.

“Certainly not yet. But the levels of intra-African trade have gone up from 13 percent or so, before the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement was adopted, to now around 20 percent but that is not good enough because other regions are trading amongst themselves.

“I mean, above 70 percent or so Europe, Asia. So, that certainly is our target.”

The acting executive secretary said the rise in intra-African trade, however, was already encouraging certain countries to trade amongst themselves. 

“Under the AfCFTA Trade Division, Kenya, a couple of other countries Ethiopia and so on and so forth.

“So now it’s really about scale, it is about making these movements that cover the entire continent.

“One is to look at the product complementarity between our countries, so we could have African countries trading inputs with another country where, perhaps, you have a much larger processing capacity and one example that I like to cite is between, for example, Gabon and Cameroon. 

“Cameroon has processing facilities for palm oil products that require additional inputs coming from the sub-region, and in this case, one could look at certain processed palm oil products coming from Gabon being processed in Cameroon to produce from soaps to oils to all sorts of other things.”

Pedro said these were some of the efforts which needed to happen.

He said the commission was making a trade decision supporting modelling, which was an exercise to identify the best export destinations for African countries.

However, he said the distance between African countries was much farther away than the distance between Africa and other continents.

“In the case of Cameroon that we have done one study; Nigeria certainly is the closest trade destination, however, what is very interesting is that a country that is not far from Cameroon which is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is trade distance.

“Countries that are miles away, China and the U.S. are closer trade-wise to Cameroon than DRC.

“Why is it that DRC is a trade distance is because there are issues with infrastructure. There are issues with essentially the connections and we need to address those binding constraints to Africa trading amongst themselves such as infrastructure. 

“Some are hard infrastructure that we need to invest in improving links between our respective countries, others are soft infrastructure.”

The acting executive secretary also said protocols that had been approved and some that were in the pipeline needed to be mainstreamed and domesticated in national legislation.

“We still have situations where the customs departments are not aware. I mean, we are already trading within these AfCFTA trade regimes and they do not know what is the list of 90 percent of products that can be traded without barriers or levies.

“We do not face problems in trading, and also communication about the AfCFTA needs to be improved within government departments.”

Pedro also said information needed to reach the operators on ground so that when companies or individuals were exporting, they were not faced with all sorts of barriers. 

“That is why the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area rests also in the accelerated implementation of the boosting intra-African trade data Action Plan.

“Basically, data is about addressing the binding constraints to celebrating intra-African trade which are again, a combination of hard and soft issues.”

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Nigeria, 140 countries demand Russia withdraw from Ukraine



Nigeria, 140 countries demand Russia withdraw from Ukraine

Nigeria and 140 Member States on Thursday demanded Russia to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine, marking the one-year anniversary of the war with a call for a “just and lasting” peace.

The UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ukraine got strong backing in a non-binding vote that saw 141 of the 193 UN members in support, including Nigeria.

Seven members opposed and 32, including China and India, abstained at the UN General Assembly emergency special session, aimed at restoring peace.

Coming on the eve of the first anniversary of the brutal war, support for Kyiv was little changed from that of last October when 143 countries voted to condemn Russia’s declared annexation of four Ukraine regions.

“Today, United Nations General Assembly has just spoken very clearly,” said European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

“This vote shows that the international community stands with Ukraine.”

The vote came after two days of debate during which Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged the international community to choose “between good and evil.”

The resolution reaffirmed support for Ukraine’s “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity,” rejecting any Russian claims to the parts of the country it occupies.

It also demanded “that the Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders,” and called “for a cessation of hostilities.”

Earlier, General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi said that for almost a full year, the world body, UN Secretary-General, and the international community had been consistent and vocal in calls to end this war and to adhere to the UN Charter and international law.

“Let this anniversary and the anguish of millions before our eyes over the last year serve as a reminder to all of us here in this Hall that military solutions will not end this war.

“Too many lives, livelihoods, families and communities have been lost. Russia can end its aggression and the war it has unleashed. Russia must end this hell of bloodshed,’’ he said.

The General Assembly’s eleventh emergency special session resumed on Wednesday with the introduction of a new draft resolution and two proposed amendments.

Also speaking, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the one-year mark stands as a “grim milestone”, and the impact is being felt far beyond Ukraine.

He called for full support of the recent UN launch of a $5.6 billion dollars humanitarian appeal for the people of Ukraine.

“While prospects may look bleak today, we know that genuine, lasting peace must be based on the UN Charter and international law,.

“The longer the fighting continues, the more difficult this work will be. We don’t have a moment to lose,’’ he said.

He called on the parties and the international community to recommit to the values, principles, and purposes of the UN Charter.

Upholding and preserving “our constitution for ‘we the peoples’ must be the common interest of all Member States,” he said.

“There is no alternative.”

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