A profligate potpourri of antisemitic problems

The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, which met this week in Jerusalem, needs more focus.

Battling antisemitism with 21st century technology (photo credit: Courtesy)
Battling antisemitism with 21st century technology
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Activists gathered in this week in Jerusalem for the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism that was held under government auspices.
This is not something to be taken for granted. Not always has the State of Israel seen the struggle against antisemitism as its fight. For the first 25 years of the state’s existence, the unspoken attitude in Jerusalem seemed to be, “If Jews abroad have a problem with antisemites they can always migrate to Israel.” Immersed in the business of building and defending the Jewish nation-state, Israel’s leaders had no time for “troubles of the Diaspora past.”
Attitudes began to change after the Yom Kippur War. The campaign of political delegitimization against Israel launched by Arab countries led to the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution at the UN and a ton of propaganda that blended anti-Zionism with antisemitism. The Big Lie entered intellectual discourse.
After the Rue Copernic synagogue bombing in Paris in June 1982 and other terrorist attacks, prime minister Menachem Begin made the decision to have Israeli officials begin advising Jewish communities abroad on security measures, and the response to antisemitism rapidly found its place on the national agenda.
With the disintegration of the Communist bloc, an enhanced role for Israeli diplomacy regarding antisemitism also became more necessary and possible.
Jerusalem intervened and pressed for government crackdowns on official and street manifestations of antisemitism in the emerging states of the former USSR.
The wave of neo-Nazi violence that swept Germany in 1993 generated a demand for Israeli government action against antisemitism. The Knesset held its first-ever special debate on the matter, and one former Mossad chief suggested publicly that Israeli agents act against neo-Nazi leaders.
Antisemitism emanating from the Arab world became an issue as well. When Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak visited Washington in 1997, congressmen roughly confronted him with the issue of antisemitism in that nation’s press.
In 1988, then-cabinet secretary (and later Supreme Court justice) Elyakim Rubinstein established the Interministerial Forum for Monitoring Antisemitism, and expanded it to include Diaspora representatives and academic experts.
The forum and the Anti-Defamation League founded the Tel Aviv University Project on Antisemitism in 1992, a documentation and research center. The project compiled reports on antisemitism around the world and eventually won a place on the Israeli cabinet’s agenda, reporting once a year.
SUBSEQUENTLY, the World Jewish Congress joined the consortium, and began to convene an annual conclave of researchers and activists who monitored antisemitism around the world.
In 1997, cabinet secretary Danny Naveh assumed responsibility for combating antisemitism. He wanted to push for global legislation that would limit access to sources of hate literature, such as neo-Nazi websites on the Internet. But for years, this never happened. At the time, many American Jewish groups opposed this approach because it suggested limits on free speech.
In retrospect, this was a terrible mistake, considering the monstrous proportions to which antisemitism on social networks and the Web has grown. Belatedly, everybody now agrees that combating cyberhate is a top priority, and Israel’s Justice Ministry even has a department dedicated to the fight against online incitement.
The 2001 World Conference against Racism, known as Durban I, turned into one of the greatest displays of organized anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate ever. It was horrible watershed moment that clarified how antisemitism had become a strategic threat. It traumatized even many Israelis.
Shortly thereafter, Natan Sharansky became minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, and in 2003 he founded the Global Forum against Antisemitism.
Sharansky’s leadership and heroic global reputation made the Global Forum into a focused and super-effective coordinating body of Jewish leaders, intellectuals and organizations.
“The State of Israel has decided to take the gloves off and implement a coordinated counteroffensive against antisemitism,” Sharansky wrote. “The State of Israel will play, as it always should, a central role in defending the Jewish people...”
Sharansky’s contribution was enormous – and for this reason, and many others, he richly deserves to be an Israel Prize laureate, as was announced this week. He focused attention on “new antisemitism,” which aims to emasculate the Jewish people by whittling away at the Jewish state.
Sharansky developed simple benchmarks to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. His “3D test” scrutinized criticism of Israel for demonization, double standards and delegitimization – which mark the devolution of commentary about Israel into the dark zone of antisemitic expression and intent.
In 2010, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper – in a compelling speech delivered at a meeting in Ottawa of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism – formally adopted Sharansky’s 3D definition as his own.
Then, in 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a similar working definition of antisemitism, which includes using double standards to single out Israel, or denying the Jewish people its right to self-determination.
(By this definition, it is antisemitic to claim that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, or to use symbols associated with classic antisemitism like the blood libel to characterize Israel or Israelis).
But as Prof. Gerald Steinberg has shown, much of the self-styled human rights community has studiously ignored the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance framework. Groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the World Council of Churches reject the definitions described above, and frequently stray into antisemitic territory in their incessant and fierce criticism of Israel.
At the second and third Global Forum meetings, Sharansky focused attention on radical Islamist and Arab antisemitism, and on Palestinian antisemitism.
He wasn’t prepared to gloss over this, especially since satanic imagery about Jews and Israel became commonplace in the Palestinian media and was directly leading to violence.
Again, today everybody acknowledges what Sharansky understood back then: that one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Oslo peace process was our failure from day one to confront lies and diabolical indoctrination in the Palestinian Authority; an authority that Israel helped establish in order to concede territory and find peace, but which instead became an antisemitic and anti-Israel monster.
SINCE THEN, the Global Forum has met in Jerusalem many times. Under the auspices of the Israeli foreign and Diaspora ministries, it has morphed from a modest professional coordinating forum of core Jewish activists into a large and lavish international conference with cultural performances, expensive dinners and swag.
This year’s conference was open to almost any member of the public. This meant that many disgruntled or otherwise bored hangers-on, who didn’t belong at a serious policy conference aimed at tangible results, were around to rant and harangue. This wasted a lot of time. It left me hankering for the good old days of Sharansky’s unassuming and more genuine forum, where small working-groups brainstormed and crafted actual plans to combat antisemitism.
To their credit, the conveners of this year’s Global Forum smartly used the gathering as a platform for the participation of many non-Jews (even some Muslim leaders), and as a platform where foreign government leaders could publicly commit themselves to fighting antisemitism and defending Israel.
But my sense was that the conference conveners couldn’t decide on what to focus this year, so they turned the conference into a profligate potpourri of antisemitic problems.
Just about every antisemitic ill you can imagine was on the agenda: hate of the Left and hate of the Right, cyberhate, LGBTQ hate, Christian theological antisemitism, Holocaust revisionism, Palestinian denialism of Jewish history, campus antisemitism, legislative assaults on Jewish practices like ritual slaughter and circumcision, and even antisemitism in sports.
In a world where antisemitism has reached post-Holocaust epidemic proportions, there are indeed a lot of bases to cover.
However, Israeli tax dollars might have been better spent and the real fight against global antisemitism better served, had the Global Forum been more focused around a single or several key issues.
The forum could have usefully devoted its entire agenda to combating “intersectionality” as a cover for hate speech in progressive activism, or to countering the antisemitism of far-right political parties in Europe (some of which have taken to masking their hate by proclaiming to be pro-Israel).
There were short and excellent presentations on these two topics, respectively, by Sohab Ahmari and David Bernstein; and by Natan Sharansky and Ariel Muzicant.
But in the crush and rush of some 100 speakers and 1,200 participants packed into mammoth plenary sessions over two days, and with all that food to consume, there wasn’t enough time to delve into either topic seriously or to craft concrete strategies of response.
The author is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, and was a member of Elyakim Rubinstein’s Inter-Ministerial Forum in the 1990s, and the founding coordinator of Natan Sharansky’s Global Forum against Antisemitism, 2003-2005.