Jews can't fight antisemitism alone is key message at Jerusalem conference

Yad Vashem official: Antisemitism is an affront against humanity, isn’t a purely Jewish cause.

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March 21, 2018 14:31
3 minute read.
A MAN wearing a kippa waits for the start of a demonstration against antisemitism at Berlin’s Brande

A MAN wearing a kippa waits for the start of a demonstration against antisemitism at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in 2014. (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)

“Antisemitism is not a Jewish problem” was a central message of panelists who stressed the need for an international response to the problem at the sixth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem, held from Sunday to Wednesday.

Antisemitism should concern and be tackled by society at large, rather than just by the Jewish communities that it most directly affects, participants highlighted.

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Yehuda Bauer, a prominent Israeli historian of the Holocaust, spoke at panel session held on Tuesday on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the Working Definition of Antisemitism. “We have to realize that antisemitism is not a Jewish problem but a problem of the societies in which it rises. It’s a cancer which eats the societies in which it comes up,” he said.

The solution is not to “say how wonderful Jews are,” but “to attack antisemites as people who are destroying our society; they are continuing Nazi ideology...,” Bauer said.

While much attention had been given at the con
ference to antisemitism in Europe and North America, the real danger comes from radical Islam, which espouses “explicitly Nazi and Bolshevik antisemitism,” he said.

“We need to continue our examination of how to attack radical Islam, which can only be done with Muslims leading it, and there are plenty of people in the Muslim world who can do that with us. Antisemitism can’t be fought by Jews alone, it has to be fought by alliances,” he said.

Bauer described the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, adopted in May 2016, as a useful “opening act” for creating such alliances.

Eight countries have adopted the definition – Austria, Bulgaria, Britain, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Macedonia and Romania – as well as many municipalities and police forces.

Prof. Dina Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, echoed Bauer’s call for creating alliances. She said she that just as Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky came up with a 3D test for antisemitism (delegitimization, demonization of Israel and double standards), she has now come up three 3Cs: cooperation among Jewish organizations and circles, coalitions with other minorities and persecuted and moderates, and combating antisemitism.

“When you have the first two, the last will be much more possible,” Porat said.

KATHARINA VON SCHNURBEIN, the EU commission coordinator on combating antisemitism, spoke on a separate panel about government action against antisemitism. The biggest challenge is ensuring widespread acknowledgment of the issue, she said.

In Germany, she said, eight out of 10 Jews say that antisemitism is a rising and threatening problem, but eight out of 10 Germans say it’s not a big problem. “This discrepancy is something we need to bridge. We need to raise awareness of different forms of antisemitism, so for instance, that a sports teacher and not only a history teacher will recognize antisemitism,” von Schnurbein told the audience.

Newcomers to society, she added, must recognize that Jewish life has always been part of Europe and is not linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yossi Gevir, the director of government and external affairs at Yad Vashem, said that Israel should, some of the time, take a backseat in the fight against antisemitism.

“Our role in the process of combating antisemitism is clearly, historically and currently a very major one,” he said, yet he added: “We clearly don’t want the fight against antisemitism to be only a Jewish or Israeli one. It’s not only a matter of perception but of substance. Antisemitism is an affront against humanity, has no place in civilization and is not a purely Jewish cause – we want various countries to consider it, [and] not first and foremost because Israel advocated it.

“We welcome the initiatives the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] has taken upon itself,” Gevir said, noting that through that body various nations have taken the fight against antisemitism upon themselves as a humanistic, universal cause.

The alliance is working to encourage more countries to adopt the definition, which it formulated in May 2016 amid concerns of rising antisemitism, in an effort to clamp down on discriminatory or prejudicial behavior that might fall between the cracks due to unclear or differing definitions of antisemitism.

The non-legally binding definition reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

It is accompanied by illustrative examples of antisemitism. These examples include classical antisemitic tropes, Holocaust denial and attempts to apply a double standard to the State of Israel.


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