2019’s achievements against antisemitism

Many valiant organizations and individuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, continue to fight against the ongoing outbreak of antisemitism.

Protesters hold placards and flags during a demonstration, organised by the British Board of Jewish Deputies for those who oppose antisemitism, in Parliament Square in London. (photo credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Protesters hold placards and flags during a demonstration, organised by the British Board of Jewish Deputies for those who oppose antisemitism, in Parliament Square in London.
Expressions of antisemitism across the Western world continued to increase during 2019, but it is also important to note achievements in the battle against this hatred. Many of these can serve as examples to follow in similar fights elsewhere.
Systematically exposing and fighting antisemitism is the foundation for this battle. The successes in this combat should be analyzed by category. A few of the main ones are listed below. A precondition of systematically exposing and fighting antisemitism is how to define it. In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – of which more than 30 Western countries are members – accepted a definition of antisemitism. This text also includes examples of incitement and discrimination against Israel. Although the IHRA definition is not a legal document, it has created a frequently used framework for identifying antisemitic behavior.
Currently, 21 countries have adopted the IHRA definition for internal use. In 2019, Canada, Greece, the Czech Republic, Moldova and Portugal accepted the definition. In addition, many institutions in various countries have also accepted the IHRA definition for their use. For instance, more than 150 institutions in the United Kingdom have done so.
Obtaining data on antisemitic incidents and information on attitudes of Jew-hatred and perceptions of it by Jews are a second category of importance in the combat against antisemitism. A number of new studies were published this year. One important report was a survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) conducted in 18 countries. It found, for instance, that Muslim acceptance of antisemitic stereotypes was almost three times as high as that of the national populations in six EU countries.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) commissioned the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in the UK to carry out a study on the perceptions and experiences regarding antisemitism of young Jewish Europeans. It found that “close to half of this sample of young Jewish Europeans said they had experienced at least one antisemitic incident in the previous 12 months.”
Another important study was carried out by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in the United States. It reveals deep concern about antisemitism in the United States among Jews and widespread fear that it is increasing.
In addition to surveys, other important documents were also published. An unexpected report on antisemitism was released by the United Nations. Even though it only mentioned part of the serious worldwide problems concerning Jew-hatred, it was an important development.
A major breakthrough was the report by the Anglican Church on antisemitism in Christianity and its own denomination. It stated: “The document, ‘God’s Unfailing Word,’ is the first authoritative statement by the Church of England on the part played by Christians in the stereotyping and persecution of Jews. Attitudes toward Judaism over centuries had provided a ‘fertile seed-bed for murderous antisemitism.’”
British scholar Alan Johnson published a study in which he shows that the British Labour Party is institutionally antisemitic. This study can serve as a model to investigate other parties permeated by antisemitism in Western countries.
A third category of importance concerns legal measures and parliamentary decisions against expressions of antisemitism. On December 11, an executive order was signed by US President Donald Trump against prohibitive forms of discrimination rooted in antisemitism. The President ordered all executive departments and agencies to consider the IHRA definition.
By the end of 2019, more than half of America’s 52 states had accepted various types of anti-boycott legislation, with Kentucky being the most recent. The House of Representatives passed a resolution rejecting the boycott movement against Israel on July 24, 2019 by a vote of 398-17.
The German parliament adopted a motion against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, although it was not accepted by the German government. During 2019, additional federal German states appointed antisemitism commissioners.
The French parliament accepted a resolution that said anti-Zionism is antisemitism. The French Minister of the Interior, Christoph Castaner, welcomed the symbolic gesture, which this resolution embodies. While the Dutch parliament voted for a motion to expand specific labeling of the Israeli settlement areas to other areas elsewhere in the world, the Dutch government did not accept it.
A fourth category of achievements is successful actions against individual antisemites and the hatred spread in and by
organizations. A major success was obtained when the British Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) decided to use its powers under the Equality Act to launch an investigation regarding a variety of allegations of antisemitism in the country’s Labour Party. It is only the second time in UK history that such an investigation took place. The previous time concerned the tiny right-wing British National Party.
Many valiant organizations and individuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, continue to fight against the ongoing outbreak of antisemitism. New initiatives have also been initiated. For instance, a group of funders led by Robert Kraft has announced the creation of a new foundation which will raise 50 million dollars – partly raised by him – to combat antisemitism. Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress will invest $25 million of his own money in the new Anti-Semitism Accountability Project (ASAP). He plans to use the organization to go after both Democrats and Republicans alike who traffic in antisemitic language and tropes.
Special attention should be given to the way in which British Jewry has changed due to the widespread antisemitism within the Labour party. In the past, Jewish leaders maintained a low profile. They approached the authorities to achieve matters of interest for their communities. In view of the developments in Labour, British Jewry has now accepted the challenge of dealing with antisemitism in the party in the public domain. Not only the leadership, but many individuals including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, publicly attacked the Jew-hatred in Labour as well as the inefficient way its leadership has been dealing with many complaints about antisemitism.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has received the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s International Leadership Award and the Canadian Institute’s for Jewish Research’s International Lion of Judah Award.