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forum on global anti-semitism

The Missions of Canada, Israel and the United States and the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations hosted a full day forum on global anti-Semitism on  September 7, 2016.

Built on the January 2015 UN General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism, this event examined the continued rise of global anti-Semitism and provided recommendations for effective responses to this challenge. Panelists were representatives from government, civil society and the private sector.

Highlights from the introductory statements included these points:
  • Anyone who thought that anti-Semitism was in the past only has to look at current occurrences to know that it still exists around the world.
  • We must remember what happened in the past, be proactive and speak out.
  • Anti-Semitism is a threat to everyone’s human rights.
  • The lines between the hatred of Jews and Israel are blurred
  • There is a difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and discrimination.
  • There is a culture of hate, a fear of the other, and intolerance that poisons society.
  • Pluralism and inclusion should be advanced with a respect for diversity.
  • There is a new kind of threat worldwide by social media, online sites and technology. This unique form of racism is on the rise. There is a clear link between the rise of social media and the rise of anti-Semitism.
  • Anti-Semitism is alive in the United Nations-it persists and is spreading.

Keynote Address: Professor Deborah Lipstadt
Deborah Lipstadt is a renowned Holocaust historian, professor, author of several books and the subject of an about-to-be released film entitled Denial, about the libel suit brought against her by the Holocaust denier David Irving.

Ms. Lipstadt spoke about her efforts to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, focusing on the challenges of defining and identifying anti-Semitism in the current geopolitical context. 
  • The United Nations is an institution that has nurtured anti-Semitism since its inception: the “Zionism is Racism” resolution adopted in 1975 is one of the most egregious examples. 
  • Anti-Semitism is a latent, hostile, and persistent belief that causes one to hate the Jew as a being. It is a passion rather than an idea which is a threat to any multi-cultural society.  
  • It is not just a Jewish problem but one that will ultimately cascade to other groups. 
  • Today, two generations after WW2, Jews have to be protected from more and more attacks. Hard core denial is easier to spot than soft-core denial, i.e. they’ve heard enough about the Holocaust. This attitude became prevalent in the 1970’s with academics in society.  
  • It is a challenge to viewers to stand up to prejudice and hatred and to fight against it. 
  • Ms. Lipstadt closed by telling the audience that we MUST hold people accountable for their facts and NOT accept false claims.
Panel 1: Government Responses to Global anti-Semitism

Representatives from United States, Canada, the European Union, Israel and Germany summarized actions their governments and regional organizations have taken to respond to the rise of anti-Semitism domestically and globally, sharing best practices for addressing anti-Semitism and ensuring Jewish communities and individuals are secure.

  • Building and working together in coalition is vital in working to fight anti-Semitism. The importance of the coalition work in coming to a definition of anti-Semitism by the EUMC was stressed. This definition has been adopted and is used by many countries and it is hoped that the UN will officially adopt that definition.
  • Concern about the rise in use of the internet to spread anti-Semitic comments on line and the need to work with Twitter, Google and other sites to disrupt and take those down
  • Worries about the rise of right wing parties in Europe
  • Anti-Semitism has crossed over to demonizing Israel
  • In Germany there is a rise in Jewish population with many new synagogues being built. A great effort is made to acknowledge the great contributions made by Jewish scientists, writers and musicians
Panel 2: Anti-Semitism and hate Speech on the Internet and in Social Media: Solutions for the Digital Age

The information superhighway is an unprecedented tool for spreading knowledge, free expression and global interconnectedness but it also presents challenges to human dignity and public safety due to the ubiquity of anti-Semitism and severe cyber hate in social media. It poses a serious threat to Jewish communities and the wider public. The panel explored ways to increase the decency and safety of the web without harming its essential freedom and discussed the responsibilities of governments, civil society and industry in providing solutions for the digital age.
  • The internet has become a training ground for young boys and girls unhappy with their way of life
  • Hate on the Internet is growing and the scope of hate is expanding. It is being viewed by millions of people
  • True threats are those that target and identify a specific group- the attacker can make contact to a target without ever meeting them
  • Every two minutes, people are exposed to anti-Semitic posts and Holocaust denial
  • Kids need to be taught to recognize hate speech online
  • Although monitoring and eliminating online hate speech is difficult and removal can interfere with constitutional rights, it is the responsibility of social media companies to make every effort to remove cyber hate content
  • Raising awareness and greater transparency will encourage individual users to report hate speech
  • As an approach to online safety, tech firms are creating technical innovations, doing more partnering and informal educating
  • Although progress is slow, many major social media companies are taking great strides to monitor and remove online hate and terrorism by setting up complaint reviews and becoming more involved and cooperative
Panel 3: Civil Society Coalitions

An expert panel addressed the role that NGOs should be playing in combatting anti-Semitism. Currently, the everyday indignities suffered by Jews in the streets of many cities in Europe and elsewhere are destroying the Jews’ sense of belonging in the homelands many have lived in for hundreds of years. At least some of this is the result of the erosion of the shame about the Holocaust which, for some years after WWII, led to a decrease in the external manifestations of anti-Semitism. The vilification of Israel and the accusation that the IDF behave like Nazis further erodes shame. There are a few bright spots (e.g. the improvement in Jewish Catholic relations) but anti-Semitism in its old traditional forms and in its newer forms is rampant all over the world.
  • A Swedish newspaper subsidized by the government published a blood libel article in 2009 asserting that IDF soldiers arrest and kill young Palestinians and sell their organs. No one in the government of civil society spoke out to complain.
  • Many European cathedrals have anti-Semitic statues; part of the ethos of European culture which has justified anti-Semitism for centuries.

Recommendations for improvement:
  • UN should adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism and the Secretary General should appoint a special representative on anti-Semitism.
  • UN should investigate instances of anti-Semitism.
  • Collaboration between government and civil society is needed. There should be an emphasis on bringing people together.
  • The fight against anti-Semitism must not be left to the Jews alone. Inevitably, it leads to hate and violence against other groups as well; it is like the canary in the mine.
  • Concerning relations with Muslims, we need a new empathetic strategy. Muslims are also experiencing bias and we should work together.

Panel 4: Youth and Education

Following the January 2015 UN General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism, the joint statement issued by more than 50 countries encouraged opportunities for educational initiatives and teacher-training programs that provide young people with a greater understanding of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. It’s most important to address these issues among younger generations. Speakers were from the European Union of Jewish Students, UNESCO, Quebec Public Affairs for CIJA, WJC, and B’nai B’rith International. 


REPORTED BY MADELEINE BRECHER, FRAN BUTENSKY, RITA FISHMAN, JOAN LURIE GOLDBERG, AND JUDY MINTZ, ICJW UN NY Representatives