With all due respect to Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, his recent criticism of the Israeli Foreign Ministry over the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism was a mile off target. He expressed concern over senior government officials from Lithuania, Greece, Hungary and Ireland being schedule to deliver addresses at the opening of the conference. In each case he has listed valid concerns about rising antisemitism and the need for a stronger response to it by governments in these countries. While Dr Zuroff’s raises valid concerns, he has misunderstood the purpose and nature of the Global Forum.
The Global Forum conference will not be a talking shop for VIPs, it will be a gathering of experts, community leaders, law makers and diplomats. The core work will not take place in plenary sessions, but rather in 10 topic specific working groups. These working groups are all chaired by leading international experts in each groups chosen topic. Participants have already selected their working groups and working group chairs are already hard at work. The years Global Forum will not be an empty conference of speeches, it will be a call to action and a time to tackle serious problems like those Efraim Zuroff has raised.
At each step of the process, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has consulted with the conference steering group, which is itself made up of the working group chairs. The conference, while large, is only for invited guests, all of whom will have something to contribute within their chosen working group, and all of whom have a grasp on situation of antisemitism in today’s world. This is not a conference for spectators, it is a gathering of change makers.
Following a full day’s deliberation in the working groups, each working group will report back publically to a plenary session of the Global Forum. In his working group, Dr Zuroff will have every opportunity to advocate for steps to address the problems he has raised about Lithuania, Greece, Hungary and Ireland. Dr Zuroff’s concern about the official covering up problems in their countries is entirely misplaced. Any such action would simply result in an entire day for the relevant working group to dissect those comments before publically offering their reply.
There is little point gathering dignitaries from countries where antisemitism is being handled well, if such places even exist today, and ignoring officials from those places where the greatest need for change exists. I look forward to hearing what the officials from Lithuania, Greece, Hungary and Ireland have to say, and I look forward to having them participate with international experts as working group members consider approaches to tackle the problems in these and other countries. I look forward to them not only contributing, but taking the advice of the Global Forum’s experts back to their countries for further consideration.
Dr Zuroff should have faith not only in the Foreign Ministry, but also in the Global Forum’s steering group and the determination of this groups of experts to tackle the problem on antisemitism head on. The Ministry may need to be diplomatic, but the Global Forum itself has been designed with only one goal in mind, to gather together those best placed to tackle antisemitism within each working group, and to facilitate those working groups in their quest to make a real impact against this old resurgent hate.
Correction (26 April 2013)
I apologize to Dr Zuroff for not using his correct title in this article as original published, and I thank the commentor who pointed this out. Efraim Zuroff recieved his Ph. D. in Holocaust studies from the Hebrew University in 1997.
Dr Andre Oboler has served as co-chair of the online antisemitism working group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism since 2008 and is a member of the steering committee for the 2013 conference. The Global Forum''s Conference will take place in Jerusalem at the end of May.