Missing in action: Antisemitism and human rights

At the diplomatic and international level, the growing consensus behind the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is of historic importance.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn reacts after the General Election results of the Islington North constituency were announced (photo credit: REUTERS / HANNAH MCKAY)
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn reacts after the General Election results of the Islington North constituency were announced
(photo credit: REUTERS / HANNAH MCKAY)
In December 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the shadow of the Holocaust and the failure of the international community to prevent the Nazi genocide. Since then, the institutions that claim to promote the values in the declaration have issued grand proclamations and held ceremonies patting themselves on the back.
But reality is far removed from their public relations, and in comparison to the lofty goals of 1948, many of these institutions are dismal failures. The dictatorships, closed regimes and murderous war lords that constitute the many members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and similar international bodies are among the worst offenders.
Perhaps the biggest failure is resurgent antisemitism – an issue that, at best, the human rights industry ignores – and in many cases contributes to. In the “enlightened” countries of Europe and North America, assaults on Jews and Jewish institutions are frequent occurrences. Synagogues, kosher stores, and individuals who are visibly identifiable as Jews have faced horrific and sometimes murderous attacks. In Britain, some in the Labour Party as well as its head, Jeremy Corbyn, have been exposed as hard-core antisemites, combining both the old forms of hate with the new “progressive” and anti-Israel versions. They were soundly defeated in the recent elections, but the hatred remains. On university campuses, visiting Israelis and students who identify with Israel are bullied, harassed and, in some cases, physically attacked.
Yet, not one of the human rights stalwarts has even a single report, project or staffer dedicated to combating antisemitism. The Human Rights Council has a notorious, permanent agenda item for attacking Israel – which adds to the hate, but does nothing to combat antisemitism. For the past 20 years, this council has been a major source of demonization against Israel, including the notorious Goldstone Report (2009), falsely accusing Israel of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. A number of other UN bodies add to this form of hatred, and continue to embody the infamous 1975 resolution that labeled Zionism as racism.
The resolution was revoked in 1991, but the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which was created at the same time, continues to hold its crude propaganda sessions around the world. In addition, the branch of the UN’s Office of the Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs that caters to the Palestinians (OCHA-OPT) provides millions of dollars to groups and activities that demonize Israel and contribute to hate around the world.
In parallel, and closely linked to the UN agenda, the largest global nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – proceed as if there is no connection between antisemitism and human rights. While they campaign to expose discrimination and bias against many other groups, they act as if the principles of human rights do not apply to Jews and Israelis.
Instead, like the UNHRC, the NGO network often contributes to antisemitism, including the active promotion of discriminatory boycotts against Israel and the systematic erasure of Palestinian terrorism. Ken Roth, HRW’s leader for the past 25 years, is obsessed with attacking Israel, and refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of borders. Omar Shakir, his “Israel/Palestine director” – who was recently denied an extension of his Israeli work visa – spends nearly all of his energies on promoting this antisemitic agenda.
IN THIS otherwise gloomy picture, however, there are some positive developments. At the diplomatic and international level, the growing consensus behind the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is of historic importance.
This definition encompasses both the old and new forms of Jew-hatred, from theological and extreme nationalism to the odious comparisons of Israeli security measures to the Nazis and the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Canada adopted the IHRA definition in June, and the French Parliament became the latest European legislature to endorse the text, despite the strenuous objections of the anti-Israel NGO network.
Even the UN has recently taken action toward confronting its own antisemitism and recognizing the IHRA working definition, led by Secretary-General António Guterres. Under his direction, Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, issued the first-ever UN report on antisemitism, which included discussion of the IHRA text. It is still a long way from this report to the implementation of guidelines to purge UN agencies and NGOs of antisemitism, but at least the first steps have been taken.
Going to the next level, it is important to again make antisemitism unthinkable within the human rights community. For many years, the hopeful words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been ignored or twisted beyond recognition by the very institutions that claim to be their guardians. The attacks against the Jewish people highlight the urgency of ending this travesty.
The writer is president of the Institute for NGO Research.


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