Grapevine October 15, 2021: Jews not alone in combating antisemitism

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 WJC PRESIDENT Ronald Lauder with Holocaust survivors in Malmö Synagogue. (photo credit: SHACHAR AZRAN)
WJC PRESIDENT Ronald Lauder with Holocaust survivors in Malmö Synagogue.
(photo credit: SHACHAR AZRAN)

The reason that World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder did not make an in-person appearance at the 10th annual Jerusalem Post Conference this week – which happened to be the best to date – but sent a pre-recorded video in which he emphasized the importance of Jews in Israel and globally in the fight against antisemitism, xenophobia and all forms of racism, was because, he was in Malmö, Sweden, for the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, which was attended by Jewish and non-Jewish leaders from 50 countries. Among the participants were King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, prime ministers of several countries and Holocaust survivors.

On the day prior to this global conference, which was also attended by Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai and Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan, with the participation of President Isaac Herzog in a virtual address, Jewish and Swedish leaders, including Löfven, gathered in the Malmö Synagogue to celebrate the life and history of the local Jewish community and the resilience that it has demonstrated during a period of heightened antisemitism in the region.

The purpose of the global conference was not only to counter antisemitism, but all other forms of hatred and to advance Holocaust education and remembrance.

Lauder noted that he has been dealing with antisemitism ever since he became involved in the Jewish world – which is for most of his adult life. He has talked to victims and has been a target himself. He has also seen people lose their lives because they happened to be Jewish.

“All schoolchildren must learn about the Holocaust and understand how it came about and where hatred ultimately leads,” Lauder said, and proposed that January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, be designated as a day for teaching about the Holocaust in schools worldwide .

 YAD VASHEM Chairman Dani Dayan (right) with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in Malmö. (credit: SHACHAR AZRAN) YAD VASHEM Chairman Dani Dayan (right) with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in Malmö. (credit: SHACHAR AZRAN)

“There is still so much to be done. I am not naïve; I realize the hatred of Jews has been with us for 2,000 years and will never completely go away. But we can do everything in our power to keep this virus from spreading. We applaud the Swedish prime minister and the government for taking the first steps. And I thank you for your help with the Jewish community here in protecting its synagogues, its school and its people,” Lauder said.

Lauder did not ignore the Palestinians in his address. “I am aware that a just and reasonable settlement must be found with the Palestinian people,” he said. “ I have pursued a two-state solution for years and I have never given up on this idea. Two states for two peoples is the only way that this long conflict can finally come to a just conclusion.”

In recent years, antisemitism has occurred regularly in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, especially in its schools, and has gained international attention. Sweden’s key leaders have pledged to devote resources to democracy-strengthening initiatives in schools and other educational venues. At the end of March 2022, the country will assume the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and has pledged to open the Swedish Holocaust Museum by July 2022.

“We are gathering here in Malmö to remember history’s darkest chapter, humanity’s darkest chapter,” said Löfven. “It didn’t take place on Swedish soil; however, when Jews started leaving Germany following 1933, most countries, Sweden included, were reluctant to accept more than a handful of Jewish refugees.”

In a reference to Jewish resilience he said, “Every Shabbat candle lit, every song in Yiddish or Ladino and every Swedish Jew who wears a kippah or a Star of David with pride is a stance against hate.”

Shai announced that Israel stood behind the Malmö Jewish community.

“It is the right of every Jewish individual to live full and proud Jewish lives wherever they choose,” he said. “Additionally, you should have the opportunity to proudly and actively have relationships with Israel… without being questioned.”

Dayan stated: “Against the backdrop of the alarming rise in antisemitism worldwide, the Malmö Forum provides an important international platform to raise global awareness of the need for Holocaust remembrance as well as an opportunity for government officials and the world community to join forces in the fight against this destructive and age-old phenomenon. 

“It is Yad Vashem’s mission to ensure that the voices of the victims and the testimonies of the survivors will remain accessible and relevant today and for future generations. Together with international partnerships, alliances and coalitions, these fundamental tools can help us push antisemitism back to the margins of our global society.”

Speaking from Jerusalem, Herzog called on the world to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism: “The IHRA has become a widely accepted reference point in the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial, with over 30 countries having adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and I call upon all nations to do so.”

Herzog also called for international cooperation to fight antisemitism and stressed the need to remove antisemitic content from social media: “Antisemitism is an infusion of hate into pockets of ignorance, a force of destruction which wears down any virtue in its path… It will require not only improving Holocaust education in schools, such as the outstanding program of Yad Vashem, but also working aggressively on social media, including with and confronting social media companies to ensure that hateful incitement is quickly removed.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at the conference that the Government of Canada will be making permanent the role of the special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism. Former justice minister Irwin Cotler is the current envoy.

In his remarks, Trudeau referenced intolerance coming from the far Right and far Left, and reiterated Canada’s commitment to combating antisemitism at home, including the expansion of education materials, online harm legislation, and support for the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a pre-recorded message from Canberra, promised to stamp out antisemitism in the southernmost continent, and declared that the Australian government will formally endorse an international working definition of discrimination. Australia was among the countries that boycotted the recent Durban Conference.

Morrison said his government would embrace the IHRA’s working definition, thereby joining more than 40 nations and hundreds of local governments, sporting organizations, institutions and universities around the globe.

Australia would adopt the definition “as a people, and as a nation,” he stated.

“Antisemitism has no place in Australia; it has no place anywhere in the world,” he emphasized, and we must work together, resolutely and as a global community to reject any word or any act that supports antisemitism towards individuals, towards communities or religious facilities.”

“With this announcement,” said Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler, “the government has reconfirmed its commitment to fighting antisemitism. The government has led the way, but those fighting antisemitism in Australia should urge universities, institutions and businesses across the country to adopt it as part of their anti-discrimination policies.”

■ THOUGH NOT actually related to the Malmö conference, Sweden and Israel are currently celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations, in honor of which Swedish Ambassador Erik Ullenhag and his wife, Maria Velasco Ullenhag, invited former Israeli ambassadors and their spouses to Stockholm for an intimate informal dinner at the residence. It was intimate in the sense that no one else was invited.

Unfortunately, at the last minute, Maria Velasco Ullenhag could not be present. She currently serves the second-highest ranking official at the Swedish representation in Ramallah and her superior did not release her to attend the dinner, which would have been awkward if any of the guests had been superstitious. The date was October 13, and there were 13 people sitting around the table at the dinner at the Swedish ambassador’s residence. The Israelis, made of stern stuff, and having faced grimmer situations in their diplomatic careers, were not deterred by the prominence of the number 12 and enjoyed what the wife of one of the former and somewhat controversial Israel ambassadors to Sweden described as “a truly splendid dinner.”

■ JOURNALISTS WHO fly abroad with the prime minister should brace themselves for yet another Shabbat away from home. At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will fly to Sochi next Friday, October 22, to discuss a series of diplomatic, security and economic issues that relate to the bilateral relationship of their two countries. Because Shabbat comes in before 5:30 p.m. in Jerusalem, it would be somewhat risky for the religiously observant Bennett to take the two-and-a-half-hour return flight on Friday unless there is a flight no later than 1.30 p.m.

As it is customary for the presidents and prime ministers of Israel to meet with the Jewish communities, or at least the Jewish leadership of the countries they visit, Bennett would be cutting it very fine if he wanted to get back to Israel in time to spend Shabbat with his family.

Bennett had no choice but to remain in Washington over Shabbat in August after attacks on US soldiers in Afghanistan resulted in fatalities, causing a crisis that delayed his meeting with the US president, and thereby deprived him of the possibility of returning to Israel in time for Shabbat. While in New York last month to address the UN General Assembly, Bennett remained in the Big Apple during Shemini Atzeret so as not to offend the Jewish community, even though the holiday was already over in Israel.

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