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December 18, 2015

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 18, 2015 Lns, By Shalle' McDonald While Christians in Iraq and Syria face the threat of extinction at the hands of the Islamic State terror group, the U.S. State Department re- mains silent on the prospecL of publicly designating the atrocities against Christians and other Mideast religious minorities as "genocide." According to a recent in- vestigative piece by journalist Michael Isikoff for Yahoo! News, the State Department is in the midst of internal discussions to officially rec- ognize the Yazidi people as genocide victims. But a lin- gering question remains: Will other religious minorities be included in the Obama ad- ministration's designation? "Scholars and experts are in consensus regarding the term 'genocide' being applied to both Christians and Yazidis alike... We need to ensure that all groups being persecuted by Islamic extremism are being treated equally under Article 2 of the United Nations' Conven- tion on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," Mark Arabo, an American spokesman for the Middle East's Chaldean Catholic community and a human rights activist, told ' In particular, human rights activists argue that Christians and other re- ligious minorities should definitely be included in a genocide designation due to the ongoing systematic mur- der, rape, enslavement, forced conversion, and displacement of their communities in Iraq and Syria. Villages that have had Christian presence for cen- turies have virtually become ghost towns as a major- ity of Mideast Christians have been forced to flee, convert, or be murdered. Even Christian families who chose the option of paying the jizya--an Islamic tax on non-Muslims--had to hand their wives over to the Islamic State terrorists. Charles Hayes, an expert on religious freedom andvice president of the Newseum Institute in Washington, D.C., told that the designation of genocide for Christians is "long overdue." "If the State Department issues a genocide designation for Yazidis, that would be a step forward--but it is not enough. Invoking genocide is a serious action and should only be done when conditions are most dire. That's where we are now in Iraq and Syria. It is time to call what is happening to Yazidis, Christians, and others what it is: genocide," Hayes said. David Brog, a board mem- ber of Christians United for Israel, called the persecution of Mideast Christians "the great human rights tragedy of our time." "This [Obama] administra- tion has a disturbing record of downplaying and even ignoring this tragedy. This is just one more sign that the administration is deaf to the cries of our Christian brethren," Brog told The State Department's reluctance to label Islamic State atrocities against Mid- east Christians as genocide is evident by the Department's own statements. A State Department source told spe- cifically mentioning Chris- tians--that alongside the atrocities against the Yazidi people, Islamic State has vic- timized a "wide range" of communities in Iraq and Syria, but that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad regime is the ac- tor most responsible for the mass murders of civilians in the region. Obama administration of- ficials to.ld Yahoo! News that Islamic State attacks against Christians and other Middle East religious minorities may notwarrantthe genocide label because Islamic State may not have the intention to actually eradicate those minority pop- ulations. Asked specifically whether Christians and other religious minorities will be included in the genocide des- ignation, a State Department official said, "At this time we ourselves have not made a formal finding of genocide.We are not going to comment on internal discussions." An Obama administration official further told, "Our policy and objective is to degrade and defeat ISIL (Islamic State) and hold perpetrators accountable. The protection of members of groups under attack and the provision of humanitar- ian assistance to members of displaced groups are vitally important and will continue to be a key priority for the U.S. government. To that end, we will continue to support the victims of these atrocities, work with responsible gov- ernments and other interna- tional partners to hold those responsible for these crimes fully accountable, and strive to prevent the commission of such atrocities in the future." Yet Ambassador Anne Pat- terson, assistant secretary of the State Department's Near East Bureau, hinted at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last month that a genocide designation might be in the works. Asked by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) whether Islamic State's atrocities are considered genocide, Pat- terson said she could not say yes or no, but that she believes "there will be some announce- ments on that very shortly." Earlier this year, Forten- berry introduced a bipartisan resolution denouncing the genocide against Christians as well as other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. "The international com- munity must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands," the resolution stated. Pressure on the Obama administration to publicly use the genocide label is mounting, coming from various spheres of influence. Scholars, religious leaders, and NGOs represented by the International Religious Free- dom Roundtable recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging his adminis- tration to "formally declare the systematic destruction of these ancient communities a genocide." This past March, the U.N. human rights office strongly suggested that Islamic State may be committing genocide. Yet Adama Dieng, the U.N.'s special advisor on the preven- tion of genocide, conveyed that it is not a simple move to make the designation. "Only a judicial body with an appropriate mandate can make a legal determination," Dieng said in a statement. Dieng warned that "the international community cannot afford to wait until such a determination is made. We must take action to protect populations earlier, before situations deteriorate to the point where the window of opportunity closes and the options for action are fewer and more costly." Brett McGurk, America's special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition To Coun- ter ISIL, recently told report- ers, "We're going to destroy this terrorist organization, and in two ways: We're going to suffocate the core, which is in Iraq and Syria; and we're going to suffocate the global networks." The 65-member coalition's plan is "taking back major ground and territory, of find- ing out about the financial networks, the economic structures, how they're actu- ally financing themselves, and then trying to root that out," said McGurk. Yet apart from America's military goals for dealing with Islamic State, the Obama ad- ministration's humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide remain a mystery. Last year, Obama stated in reference to the Yazidis that "the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide." Arabo--who lobbies on behalf of Chaldeans from the Middle East, particularly from Iraq, who are seeking asylum in the U.S.--believes that in- deed, genocide is exactly what is being committed against Christians in the Middle East. "We need to be upfront and honest when dealing with the culture of intolerance and persecution against religious minorities like Christians. We cannot turn a blind eye to the reality of death and genocide occurring against the Middle East Christian minorities," Arabo told Without the genocide des- ignation, added Arabo, "We would be facing the end of Christianity in the Middle East. There is little hope, there is little chance, and there are no longer any viable options. The cradle with which Christi- anity was born will forever be altered by the evil that is ISIS. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images ltzhak Perlman at the White House, where he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Nov. 24, 2015. By Ben Harris (JTA)--Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-born violin virtuoso, was named the third winner of the Genesis Prize. Perlman was named the winner on Monday of the annual $1 million prize that has been dubbed the "Jewish Nobel." He joins former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the actor- director Michael Douglas as recipients. "I was totally dumbfound- ed," Perlman told JTA about learning he had been selected as this year's winner. "I'm a musician. I play the fiddle. So I was so totally taken aback and I was obviously so incredibly honored they would even consider me. It was very exciting." Perlman, 70, said he was mostly unfamiliar with the prize when he first learned he was being considered. Estab- lished in 2012 by a consortium of Russian Jewish philanthro- pists, the prize is presented annually to someone who has achieved international renown in their professional field and serves as a role model through their commitment to Jewish values. "I just know who I am," Perlman said. "In other words, in our family, we are traditional Jews. My entire family is involved in one way or another, whether we go to shul, celebrate Shabbos or whatever it is. We are always in touch... That's one of the things this prize will bring forth. I don't have a problem with who I am. I live it. And my family lives it." Past winners have taken an ecumenical approach to disbursing the prize money. Douglas, the son of a Jew- ish father and non-Jewish mother, pledged to use the funds to promote out- reach to the intermarried. Bloomberg initially said he wanted to promote Israeli- Palestinian business coop- eration, but later backed away from that at the urging of the prize committee, in- stead funding nine projects "guided by Jewish values to address the world's pressing issues." More than half the recipients were nonprofit organizations based outside the United States and Israel. Perlman said he is unsure how he plans to use the funds, though he indicated it would likely have some connection to music and helping those with disabili- ties. Perlman was diagnosed with polio at age 4 and gets around with a motorized cart. "As far as I'm concerned, that's what this prize is all about--the opportunity to do good in the world, to do good as a Jew, to do as they say tikkun olam--to make things better for people," Perlman said. "My involve- ment obviously, first, is as a musician, and second, or even first, as a person who has~a disability. So these two aspects of what I'm interested in is something that I'm thinking about." Born in Tel Aviv in 1945, Perlman has achieved a level of celebrity rarely seen in the classical music world. Identified as a musical prodigy from a young age, he appeared on "The Ed Sul- livan Show" as a teenager in 1958, and went on to study at New York's Juilliard School. He has won 16 Grammy Awards, played for multiple heads of state and appeared in commercials and televi- sion shows. Perlman also performed the haunting violin solo on the "Schindler's List" soundtrack, which won both ( Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in- formed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Greece will not follow recently implemented European Union guidelines to label Israeli products from Judea and Sa- a Grammy and an Oscar. Less heralded is his violin solo in the Billy Joel hit "Downeaster Alexa," which went uncredited on the 1989 album "Storm Front" and only came to light earlier this year. The two performed the song together at Madi- son Square Garden in March after Perlman wheeled him- selfonstage and was greeted with a kiss from Joel. In November, Perlman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. In addition to maintain- ing a global performance schedule, Perlman teaches young musicians through the Perlman Music Pro- gram, an initiative founded by his wife, Toby, to provide instruction and community for players of rare talent. The Perlmans have five children. "Itzhak Perlman is the embodiment of everything an ideal Genesis Prize Laureate should be," said maria, the Golan Heights, and eastern Jerusalem. Israel and Greece agreed on extensive bilateral co- operation in economic matters, technology, sci- ence, education, trade, energy, and agriculture Stan Polovets, the chair- man and co-founder of the Genesis Prize, in a state-- ment. "Itzhak has achieved unparalleled professional success, and through his music brings joy to millions of people around the world. He has been an incredible source of inspiration for in- dividuals with special needs by overcoming tremendous personal challenges after having been severely dis- abled by polio at age four. And he has given back to society by dedicating vir- tually all of his free time and significant resources to teaching young talented musicians and to serving as an advocate for individuals with disabilities." Perlman will receive the prize at a ceremony in Je- rusalem in June. The prize is endowed by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which endeavors to build Jewish identity among Russian- speaking Jews worldwide. following last month's meet- ing between Kotzias and Netanyahu. Greece joins Hungary in its defiance of the EU's directive to remove "Made in Israel" labels from Israeli products originating beyond the 1967 lines.