Never again? Only if governments act

The State of Israel is home to any Jew. But mass immigration of Jews is not a solution to antisemitism, but a badge of shame on the countries from which Jewish communities flee.

January 15, 2018 20:36
3 minute read.
Never again? Only if governments act

Polish-born Holocaust survivor Meyer Hack shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm during a news conference at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem June 15, 2009.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Some believe antisemitism is inherent to our world; they think Jews will always be under attack.

Others think it can be eradicated. This theoretical debate aside, one thing is clear: as we enter 2018 antisemitism is on the rise and world governments must act against it. With January not yet over, antisemitic incidents have already been recorded in England, France, Puerto Rico, the United States and Austria.

Two generations after six million Jews were murdered throughout Europe, and a single generation since quotas restricted Jewish attendance in American universities, we are witnessing a surge of antisemitic incidents.

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s 2017 report highlights worrying attacks against Jews and Jewish communities, and the rise of political parties with antisemitic affiliations. These events require governments to take a firm stance to protect their Jewish citizens – not only in word but also in deed.

The State of Israel is, and will continue to be, home to any Jew. However, mass immigration of Jews is not a solution to antisemitism; it is a badge of shame on the countries from which Jewish communities flee. The obvious needs to be stated: governments are responsible for the security of Jewish communities in their countries. To effectively combat antisemitism, they must pass legislation with deterring penalties and enforce their own laws.

At the Diaspora Affairs Ministry we mapped out existing legislation, mainly in Europe, aimed at curbing antisemitism and punishing perpetrators of antisemitic hate crimes.

The findings are dire. In almost every aspect, a gap exists between the rhetoric of politicians and the letter of the law. The existence (or lack thereof) of a working definition for antisemitism is a key example, because without defining what antisemitism is, you cannot enforce the laws meant to stop it. Hardly any countries have such a definition.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) represents over 30 countries at the government level. In 2016 it formulated a Working Definition of Antisemitism, agreed to by all members and meant to provide the most basic tool in the fight against antisemitism. As of December 2017 only eight governments had ratified the definition and given it a legal standing. When I wrote to European ambassadors asking their countries to ratify it, some erroneously replied they already had – only to apologize after realizing their mistake.

One ambassador indicated the definition would not be ratified, writing that his government respected the definition while stressing it was not legally binding.

Reality shows that every month without ratifying the IHRA definition, every month without effective legislation, brings with it more antisemitic incidents.

In February 2017, two Jewish men were attacked in Paris; in March, an ultra-Orthodox Jew in Antwerp was assaulted on his way to synagogue; in December a synagogue in Gothenburg was firebombed, and the list goes on.

A month after the Gothenburg attack and hundreds chanting “we will shoot the Jews” in the streets of Malmo, Swedish officials are still reluctant to call the attacks antisemitic.

But words are usually all officials can offer. Race-driven hate crimes against Jews are treated as vandalism or abuse. None of the three previously mentioned governments ratified the IHRA definition, and their laws allow antisemitism to grow and spread. For example, in both Belgium and France the use of Nazi or neo-Nazi insignia is allowed, and in Sweden Holocaust denial is legal.

To be clear: Sweden, France and Belgium are not the only places lacking sufficient tools to fight antisemitism.

In 2016 Jews were the most targeted victims of hate crimes in Canada. Australia saw a 10% increase in anti-Semitic incidents between 2016 and 2017. Recently the BBC reported over 25% of British people “hold anti-Semitic attitudes.” When the dots of sporadic incidents are connected, the larger picture is very troubling.

In January 1945 Allied forced liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The world vowed to “never again” let Jews to be singled out or attacked. It understood silence allowed the Nazis to carry out horrific crimes. Seventy-three years later, antisemitism rages from Right and Left: skinheads feel safe to march and wave Nazi flags in public, and Jew-bashing on college campus has become the norm.

The promise of “never again” will remain empty unless governments act. Now is the time: time to ratify the IHRA definition, to ban the use of Nazi symbols and to outlaw Holocaust denial. Governments must punish whoever attacks a Jew in the street or vandalizes a Jewish institution; they need to use actions, not words, to fight antisemitism. Unless they do so, the blood of the next Jewish victim will be on their hands.

The author is the Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs.

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