“Antisemitism is not a Jewish issue, it is an issue for all societies in which it grows. It undermines common values of human rights and democracy,” Germany’s Michaela Kuchler, president of IHRA.
What should be the role of the United Nations in combating antisemitism and how that role can be strengthened, was the topic of a high level online event organized this week by the World Jewish Congress as a side event to the 75th session of the UN General Assembly.
Keynote speakers at this event focused on the roles the UN and its member states can take to prevent and respond to antisemitism and efforts to combat all forms of hatred.
“History has taught us what can happen when antisemitism reaches the mainstream,” said German Ambassador Michaela Küchler, president of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
“Antisemitism is not a Jewish issue, it is an issue for all societies in which it grows. It undermines common values of human rights and democracy.”
Speakers referenced the UN’s founding in 1945, tied directly to the end of the Holocaust and urged a mandate to create a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of hatred, including antisemitism, to ensure history does not repeat itself.
“We know that fighting prejudice, respecting difference, appreciating diversity are values that can be learned,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO. “Yet, this requires special skills from teachers and educators to sharpen young people’s critical thinking, to promote constructive political and ethical engagement in societies.”
In his remarks, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, stressed that “Antisemitism is like a cancer; if it isn’t cut out, it spreads and becomes deadly. “Every joke, every unintentional comment, every stereotypical image of Jews advances this process.”
“Only when all UN member states join the call can we truly say that the UN has a zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism”, he noted.
This was also echoed by Tatiana Valovaya, director-general of the United Nations at Geneva who stressed that “combating antisemitism, bigotry and hatred in all its forms require greater solidarity and a firm commitment from all.”
Issues of rising antisemitism in the mainstream, particularly online and on social media platforms, were also discussed.
“This hate speech phenomenon has existed and persisted even before the pandemic at an alarming rate,” said Miguel Moratinos, high representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. “Neo-nazis and white supremacists are responding, their outreach is spreading their twisted and poisoned ideologies online and offline through mainstream media platforms.”
The speakers called for the UN to adopt and implement a definition of antisemitism to be more effective. Moreover, speakers pushed for the UN to make it clear to anyone who wants to use its world platform to broadcast antisemitic messages in any guise that they are not welcome in the institution.
“At the institutional level, every country in the UN should be held accountable and no country should get judged for its existence; it should get judged for its conduct,” said Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, as part of the event’s panel.
The expert panel discussed best practices for the international community’s work to combat antisemitism, including at the UN, in member-states and with contributions of civil society. There is much more work to be done, and the UN can do much more in terms of harnessing its different bodies and agencies, members of the panel agreed. Moreover, civil society can better utilize its resources to track instances of hate speech and implement education to raise awareness.
In remarks delivered on behalf of Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, Maram Stern, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, read, “It is important to remember that hateful discourse that is directed against Jewish people eventually expands to other members of society and threatens the basic fabric of modern democracies.”
On November 9, the World Jewish Congress honored UN Secretary-General António Guterres with its highest honor, the WJC Theodor Herzl Award.