Western Governments and NGOs: Fighting Back
The past two years have witnessed an unforeseen development: while physical attacks and threats against Jews in the West decreased, expressions of antisemitism on social media increased dramatically and were more hateful and vile than in previous years.
Western governments and NGOs, alongside local and international organizations, reacted to the increase in antisemitism in various ways. Some allocated budgets to secure Jewish communities and established educational and training programs for law enforcement; some advanced legislation to curb expressions of antisemitism online and to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism; and others organized international conferences and seminars and hosted IHRA plenaries where public denouncements of antisemitism and pledges to fight its manifestations were made. Indeed, since 2015, more than 800 bodies worldwide have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, most in the past two years.
The European Union. In 2015, the European Commission appointed Katharina von Schnurbein as its first coordinator for combatting antisemitism, inaugurating a new phase of activity. In December 2018, the EU plenary, then presided over by Austria, distributed a catalogue of measures to combat antisemitism to all participants, and the 28 countries in attendance pledged to safeguard their Jewish communities. Special envoys – officials tasked with monitoring antisemitism, raising public awareness, and promoting legislation to tackle it – were appointed in several countries. These envoys occasionally gather under the EU umbrella to coordinate activities, and they issue a monthly bulletin that details the ongoing activity against antisemitism in the EU and EC. Under their guidance, in October 2021, the EU Strategy on Combatting Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life was declared in Malmö. It aims to prevent all forms of antisemitism, protect and foster Jewish life in Europe, and promote research and the commemoration of the Holocaust. Notably, it is considered the first-ever concrete action plan with the formal backing of an international organization.
Sweden. In January 2000, Goeran Persson, then the prime minister of Sweden, convened a high-level international conference in Stockholm. At least 45 delegations, headed by highranking officials and heads of states, participated. The declared goal – to keep the memory of the Holocaust center stage and combat antisemitism – led to the establishment of the International Task Force (ITF, now known as IHRA), comprised of 34 member countries and several international organizations with observer status.
Since then, Sweden has hosted four follow-up conferences on genocide, racism, antisemitism, and the Holocaust. In October 2021, the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism convened in Malmö. This Swedish city was notoriously known for rabid antisemitism that drove away seventy-five percent of its Jewish population. Dozens of delegations and world leaders participated, answering the call of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loeven, who initiated the gathering. The conference culminated in participants pledging concrete measures to combat antisemitism and a promise for a follow-up meeting: next year, Sweden will chair the IHRA and monitor the pledges’ fulfillment. Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC and a guest speaker at the conference, personally attested “to the depth of the sincerity of Swedish officials in seeking to combat antisemitism.”
Canada. The number of antisemitic incidents more than doubled between 2020 and 2021 in Canada. In response, the Canadian government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, convened an urgent conference, which resulted in an action plan. According to the plan, the Canadian government announced a standing commitment to allocate five million dollars to protect Jewish institutes, cemeteries, and monuments, fund education programs, advance stricter legislation and enforcement measures, and promote the adoption of the IHRA definition, among other initiatives. Prof. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former minister of justice who currently serves as the country’s special envoy on antisemitism, invited Jewish students who experienced antisemitism on campus to the emergency conference meetings to tell their stories, among his other activities.
Austria and the Vatican. In 2020, Austria continued its concerted efforts to combat antisemitism. It published a 160-page action plan and appointed Karolina Edtstadler, the Federal Minister for the EU and Constitution, to oversee its fight against antisemitism. In the past two years, Pope Francis and Cardinal Kurt Koch, the head of the Vatican committee for relations with the Jewish people, have issued occasional declarations strongly denouncing antisemitism and advocating close dialogue between Christians and Jews. Notably, on his recent visit to Budapest in September 2021, Pope Francis spoke firmly against antisemitism, much to the surprise of his hosts.
- Appoint special envoys. Countries that have yet to appoint special envoys to combat antisemitism should be encouraged to do so by those that have. In addition, an international forum in which special envoys regularly meet and coordinate activities should be initiated in partnership between the EU and the United Nations.
- Promote accountability. In recent years, many pledges to fight antisemitism have been made in various forums. Participants in these forums need to establish a mechanism for accountability and adopt deadlines for implementing their pledges.
- Engage and educate policymakers and world leaders. Governments and NGOs should continue to appeal to leaders and heads of state to issue denouncements of antisemitism and expressions of their commitment to safeguarding Jewish life. Leaders and policymakers should also be provided with appropriate educational materials by NGOs or their special envoys to raise awareness and encourage them to stay alert. NGOs and special envoys should also encourage leaders to consult important documents against antisemitism published so far – the Catalogue of Policies to Combat Antisemitism, the London and Ottawa Protocols, and the Austrian and European Commission Action Plans.
- Prof. Dina Porat