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November 11, 2018 10:08 am

It’s Time to Adopt an International Convention on Antisemitism

avatar by Alan Baker / JNS.org

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The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Photo: Reuters/John Altdorfer.

JNS.org – Who can blame the international community at large for sidelining the phenomenon of antisemitism when the Jewish world, whether out of a naïve sense of political correctness or merely resignation, seems to have accepted it as a permanent and indelible phenomenon to be tolerated and suffered, rather than dealt with and combated?

The recent vile events that occurred at the end of October 2018 are nothing new. Antisemitism has existed for thousands of years, reappearing in many and varied forms, adapting itself to whatever circumstances exist at any given time and utilizing the available cultural, social, and technological means to propagate itself among the public.

The October 27 Pittsburgh murderer shouted, “All Jews must die!” while killing 11 worshipers. In August 2017 in Charlottesville, American Nazis at their “Unite the Right” rally shouted “Jews will not replace us” and “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers,” while waving swastika banners and posting calls to burn a synagogue on their websites.

Similar recent instances of antisemitic acts include:

  • In the United Kingdom, 727 antisemitic incidents, an average of more than 100 per month, occurred during the first six months of 2018, fueled inter alia by the widely publicized phenomenon of antisemitism in the Labour Party. In fact, 34 antisemitic incidents during the first six months of 2018 may be explicitly related to Labour.
  • In the Netherlands, in 2016 and 2017, windows of two Amsterdam kosher restaurants were smashed.
  • In France, the 11th antisemitic murder over the past 12 years occurred in March 2018 in Paris, when an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was stabbed 11 times by her Muslim neighbor who set her ablaze in her apartment.
  • In Germany, in April 2018, two men, thought to be Jewish, were assaulted in Berlin in broad daylight by a Muslim attacker who whipped them with a belt. Similar incidents included the antisemitic bullying of a Jewish schoolgirl in Berlin by her Muslim classmates, and even the murder of a German-Jewish 14-year-old.
  • Following the adoption of a libel law criminalizing those alleging Polish involvement in the Holocaust, Poland is witnessing an outbreak of antisemitic rhetoric. The Polish Jewish community took the extraordinary step in February 2018 of issuing an open letter, saying, “Polish Jews do not feel safe in Poland” due to “the current wave of antisemitism [which] arose in response to” the libel law.
  • In Sweden, firebombs were thrown at the Gothenburg synagogue and an antisemitic demonstration was held in front of the Malmo synagogue.
  • In Russia, antisemitic posts regularly appear on Russian social media, using the classic blood libel accusing Jews of responsibility for murders as a means for acquiring blood for Passover matzah. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Jews and other minorities may have been behind the meddling in the 2016 US elections.
  • In Canada, incidents of antisemitism have been on the rise for the fifth straight year, including 1,752 incidents over the past year of harassment, vandalism, and violence. Antisemitic graffiti was daubed on schools north of Toronto, several “Hitler was right” messages were scrawled on Toronto-area highways, and a threatening antisemitic message was left for a Jewish family in Winnipeg on New Year’s Eve 2018. A menacing photo was mailed to 13 synagogues during Hanukkah 2017, which carried the message “Jewry must perish!”
  • In the United States, the Pittsburgh massacre was followed by acts of violence and vandalism in Brooklyn and California.

While the current situation of antisemitism is of prime concern to us today, nothing has really changed since the same antisemitic tropes and acts of violence that triggered the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms of Eastern Europe, the Holocaust, and other tragic paroxysms of antisemitism.

Steps can be taken to counter antisemitism

So, aside from political statements of sympathy, shock, and disgust by international leaders, the question remains what, practically, can and should be done to deal with antisemitism worldwide.

Shortly after the Pittsburgh massacre, in a statement to an interfaith gathering on October 31, UN Secretary-General António Guterres hinted at the need for some form of concerted and serious action:

Jews are being again persecuted or discriminated or attacked for the simple reason that they are who they are. We see it in the internet, in hate speech; we see it in the way cemeteries are desecrated. We now see it in this horrendous attack on a synagogue.

I believe it is important not only to denounce, not only to condemn these acts as any other act of xenophobia or racism, but it’s necessary to try to understand why this is happening.

This was supplemented by a similar statement issued by his office on the actual day of the massacre:

The shooting in Pittsburgh is a painful reminder of continuing anti-Semitism. Jews across the world continue to be attacked for no other reason than their identity. Anti-Semitism is a menace to democratic values and peace, and should have no place in the 21st century.

The Secretary-General calls for a united front — bringing together authorities at all levels, civil society, religious, and community leaders and the public at large — to roll back the forces of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hatred, bigotry, discrimination, and xenophobia gaining strength in many parts of the world.

This call by Guterres is instructive in that he goes beyond the accepted assumptions of the international community, and to a large extent the world Jewish leadership, that views antisemitism as just another form of “hatred, bigotry, discrimination, and xenophobia.” In so doing, they equate antisemitism with evils of a different kind — racism and Islamophobia — while ignoring its own distinctive characteristics and history that are deserving of separate treatment.

The Secretary-General’s call to try to understand why such horrendous acts of antisemitism happen indicates an acknowledgment of the uniqueness of antisemitism as an age-old phenomenon, with distinct roots, causes, and results that do not necessarily merit being packaged as just another form of racism or xenophobia.

In addition to antisemitism’s long and bitter history, and the depth of evil it has generated, its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is common and proliferating through all sections of society among extreme left-wing and right-wing elements, as well as crossing all social and ideological strata.

The fight against antisemitism requires a united international front

Indeed, perhaps one of the major lessons to be learned from this recent outbreak of violent antisemitism, as recognized by Secretary-General Guterres, is the need for consolidated action — a “united front,” as he suggested, to be taken by the international community against antisemitism.

In today’s world, as with any consolidated, international action to counter violence and terror, the fight against antisemitism requires a solid legal basis and sanction for action.

Strangely, and despite the long and sad history of antisemitism, the international community has never seriously considered criminalizing it per se as an international crime, standing on its own regrettable merit, whereby its perpetrators, inciters, and propagandists, and all those involved in spreading and advocating it would be dealt with as international criminals rather than enjoy impunity.

In 2015, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs endeavored to correct what is clearly a vast international injustice by publishing an “International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Anti-Semitism,” a document intended to universally criminalize antisemitism within the world community.

This draft convention follows the accepted format of other UN international conventions condemning and criminalizing genocide, racial discrimination, hostage-taking, aircraft hijacking, terror, and other serious international criminal phenomena.

This proposal comprises the following unique elements, tailored to deal with antisemitism:

  • Detailed preambular paragraphs documenting the history of antisemitism and recalling references to it in international instruments, in statements by senior international figures, and in relevant resolutions of international bodies.
  • An all-embracing definition of the crime of antisemitism and its component elements, based upon the various definitions adopted by various groups and institutions.
  • Criminalization of manifestations of antisemitism that result in or are intended to result in violence.
  • Action by countries to criminalize antisemitism in their own domestic law and prosecute or extradite perpetrators.
  • International cooperation and exchange information on perpetrators and actions taken.
  • Establishment by states of appropriate national educational programs to combat antisemitism.
  • Establishment of an International Antisemitism Monitoring Forum for monitoring and coordinating actions by states and international organizations.

With the evident support of the UN Secretary-General and the challenge he placed before the international community, this proposal should be brought before the appropriate UN legal bodies for consideration with a view to its being studied, amended, and accepted as an international treaty, criminalizing and punishing antisemitism.

Ambassador Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.

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