Who is in charge of combating antisemitism in Israel? Depends whom you ask

Despite the number of governmental agencies charged with combating antisemitism, no one seems to know who is in charge.

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March 2, 2017 22:40
4 minute read.
Swastika and "Seig Heil 2016" graffiti

Swastika and "Seig Heil 2016" graffiti found in South Philly. (photo credit: ADL PHILIDELPHIA)

 
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Israel has a number of governmental agencies charged with combating antisemitism, but the services they render are unlikely to satisfy those US Jews who think Israel should be “doing more” amid the current wave of anti-Jewish attacks in the US.

For instance, the role of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry headed by Naftali Bennett, the ministry that received a mandate last year to lead the government campaign against antisemitism, is to come up with the overall strategy for fighting the phenomenon, and to run projects designed to combat it.

According to Yogev Karasenty, who heads the ministry’s division for combating antisemitism, these projects include monitoring antisemitism on social media; developing a curriculum to teach the Holocaust to refugees from Muslim countries in Europe; and collecting into one accessible address all the laws against antisemitism. This is to include antisemitism on the Web and Holocaust denial, so that governments or organizations lobbying governments can see what is on the books in their efforts to fight the hatred.

Asked if his ministry is currently involved in any projects specifically aimed at the US, Karasenty said that the American security agencies are doing their work, and that he is sure that they would apprehend those responsible for the wave of antisemitic incidents.

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry has usurped some of the authority on the issue once held by the Foreign Ministry’s Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions, which has its own division for combating antisemitism. If in the past the annual report on antisemitism around the word that is presented to the government was prepared by the Foreign Ministry, now it is put together by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

The 2016 State Comptroller’s Report, which devoted a section to describing a lack of coordination between the Foreign Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry in dealing with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, also noted that the two ministries do not sufficiently cooperate on combating antisemitism.

In addition, there is no one centralized authority – an antisemitism “czar” – who looks at all the reports and information coming in, separating the important from the less significant, and then taking that information to various government ministers so they can raise the issue with their counterparts around the world and put it on the diplomatic agenda.

Akiva Tor, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Bureau for World Jewish Affairs, said his unit’s aim is to “use the tools of diplomacy” to fight antisemitism.

This means, for instance, getting the international community to agree on a definition of antisemitism; working with the Internet industry to pressure it to apply its own codes of conduct regarding hate speech on the Web; and working on a bilateral level with various governments where antisemitism is a problem. For instance, if there were a country that banned kosher slaughter, Jerusalem would mobilize a diplomat to engage on the issue with the local government.

Also, the Foreign Ministry would use its diplomats to speak out on behalf of the Jewish community in countries where antisemitism is a problem and the Jews don’t feel strong enough to speak out for themselves.

In addition to the Foreign Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, the Strategic Affairs Ministry is tangentially involved in the issue, in the sense that it is charged with combating BDS. Also, the Mossad has a unit called Bitzer, charged with helping to provide security for various Jewish communities around the world.

In addition, there also exists an interministerial coordinating forum on antisemitism led by the Diaspora Ministry’s director-general that meets periodically, and there is also the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism, which also includes representatives of the Jewish Agency.

Two officials involved in this forum said that it is important to have realistic expectations about what Israel can and cannot do to combat antisemitism, and that it does not have a global army to protect every Jewish community around the world. The main role that Israel can play in combating antisemitism abroad is to monitor it and to raise the issue with leaders of countries where it is taking place, and where it seems that the government response has been lax.

The issue of the proper response to the recent incidents in the US was raised at this week’s meeting of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors, with a number of federation heads saying that they want to hear clear statements of condemnation from Israel. The reason, one official said, is that if Israel comments on these incidents, it creates more awareness and puts them higher on the agenda.

However, one official closely involved in the matter said that the statements have to be carefully calibrated in such a way so that they are not manipulated by either those opposed to US President Donald Trump or those in his camp for their own political purposes.

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