(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, a partnership of NGOs and the Foreign Ministry, hosted at the United Nations in New York on September 7 a day-long High Level Forum for Combating Antisemitism.
The forum was co-sponsored by the governments of Canada, Israel, the United States and the European Union. Both the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the president of the UN General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, addressed the gathering.
A theme which ran through the day was that antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem; it is everybody’s problem. Antisemitism is a racist virus which spreads to other victims, a precursor of harm which threatens us all.
A metaphor which many speakers used is that antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine. Antisemitism is a warning of global community self-destruction. To preserve the human community, we need to work against antisemitism.
Within the confines of the UN, this expression of the need for global solidarity is both understandable and welcome. A few speakers noted the contrast between that forum and typical UN activity, which is characterized by disproportionate focus on Israel to the exclusion of real human rights violators and the platform it gives to antisemitism through explicit demonization of Israel and implicit demonization of the Jewish community worldwide for their existing and even presumed support for Israel.
Many learned sources were quoted.
One who was not, but who deserves to be remembered, is Rabbi Hillel. He asked, among other questions, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Admittedly, antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem. Admittedly, antisemitism is a global problem. But antisemitism is especially a problem for Jews. Antisemitism is especially a problem for Israel, particularly when it takes the form of demonization of the Jewish state. If the government of Israel does not combat antisemitism, especially when it takes the form of anti-Zionism, who will? The State of Israel rightly takes pride in being concerned about and attempting to protect the safety of Jews not just in Israel, but worldwide.
Indeed, one justification for the existence of the State of Israel is the haven it provides to Jews fleeing persecution.
A signal achievement of the government of Israel was the Entebbe rescue. At Entebbe, Uganda, in July 1976 Jewish passengers, Israeli or not, were separated from non-Jewish passengers on a plane hijacked from Athens to Entebbe. Israeli forces rescued the Jewish hostages. In the rescue, the IDF unit leader, Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the current prime minister of Israel, was killed.
Our modern-day Entebbe is global antisemitism. Today all Jews everywhere are being held hostage to antisemitic hatred. Our modern-day rescuer should be our neighbors, the global community, the UN. But if the government of Israel does not combat global antisemitism, who will? There is no question that Israelis and the government of Israel oppose antisemitism. The existence and activities of the government-supported Global Forum are testimony to that.
The question that needs to be asked is, what priority do Israelis and their government give to this opposition? For Israelis, antisemitism may not seem that obvious a threat. Within Israel itself antisemitism does not have the prevalence it does elsewhere, where Jews are a minority. The danger from rockets and suicide bombers may seem more immediate and real than the danger of global antisemitism.
Yet, and this was another common theme of the Global Forum session in New York, there is a direct link between incitement to hatred and violence. Auschwitz was not just built with bricks; it was built with words.
Today, suicide vests and rockets directed against Israel are not just built with explosives – they too are built with words.
Antisemitism is an existential threat not only to Jews outside Israel, but also to the Jewish state. The government and the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, like his brother before him need to come to the rescue of Jewish hostages. That means assigning the global combat against antisemitism the priority it deserves.
The author is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is senior honorary counsel to B’nai Brith Canada.