There has been an alarming rise in antisemitism across the globe in recent years, on both the far-right and the far-left. The growth of extreme far-right parties in Europe and a proliferation of anti-Zionist sentiment has contributed to an atmosphere in which many Jews are afraid to openly identify as such.
Recent studies, including the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)’s December 2019 second comprehensive report on discrimination and hate crimes against Jews in the EU, found that an overwhelming majority of the 16,500 self-identified Jewish respondents – 89 percent - feel that antisemitism is getting worse. This was the largest survey of Jewish people ever conducted worldwide, covering 12 EU member states, which are home to over 96 percent of Europe’s Jewish population; it follows the first survey of its kind in 2012, which covered 7 states. The 2018 report also found that 79% of those who experienced antisemitic harassment in the five years prior to the survey did not report the most serious incident to police, indicating an even darker reality than the official national crime numbers. More than one-third of all respondents said they had considered emigrating in the five years preceding the survey because they did not feel safe as Jews in the country where they live.
In the United States too, we have seen a shift in antisemitic sentiment. In October 2018, American Jewry changed forever when 11 people were killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the deadliest antisemitic attack on US soil.
Protecting Holocaust Memory
Advocating on behalf of Holocaust survivors, promoting Holocaust awareness and education, and fighting against not only Holocaust denial but against any distortion, trivialization or other falsification of that history has long been a priority for the WJC. In the months following the end of World War II, Jacob Robinson, the director of the WJC’s Institute of Jewish Affairs, served as advisor to Justice Robert H. Jackson in preparing the prosecution’s case regarding the mass murder of European Jewry at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The WJC has also been at the forefront of initiatives to preserve the memory of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.
For most of the seven decades following the end of World War II, the WJC has worked closely with Holocaust survivors in commemorating the Holocaust and in safeguarding the sites where the Holocaust was perpetrated. WJC President Ronald S. Lauder has long been the principal proponent for the preservation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
Right to exist
In 2018, the State of Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary. Although it is still the only fully democratic country in the Middle East, Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is not only still questioned, but this sentiment has proliferated, with the rise of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. This is due to incitement among the large Islamic Diaspora where Muslims greatly outnumber Jewish populations in most Western countries, and also due to a rising movement on college and university campuses around the world, particularly in the United States and in Europe.
Israel’s operations along the Gaza Strip to protect its border towns from waves of terror and incitement has created a new surge of anti-Israel hatred providing new excuses for its de-legitimization.
Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in peace, security, stability and prosperity is not a sine-qua non among many of the world’s population especially, but not only, among developing nations.
For Jews around the world, the State of Israel is a special place. Israel’s well-being is central to Jewish life.
Jews around the world are proud of Israel’s achievements over the last 70 years and support those who continue to build and defend Israel.
Like every other legitimate state, Israel has a right to defend itself against any acts of aggression that threaten its citizens.
The global Jewish community must work together to activate the prodigious wealth of Jewish talent in the field of public relations to counter adverse images of Israel and its people, in the media, on the internet, and by articulate spokespersons who attack it. We also see to engage youth, particularly students, to collaborate in a positive way to try to change the discourse about Israel on campus, and show case not only its achievement as a democratic nation, and a leader in innovation, but also underscore its indisputable right to exist as a Jewish state.
The World Jewish Congress is committed to supporting Israel and defending it against delegitmization in every sphere.
Israel’s international relations
Israel is not treated like any other state. It does not have diplomatic relations with a number of states and is often singled out for criticism by international organisations such as the UN, which imposes double standards across its bodies and agencies.
Governments must apply the same standards to Israel when judging its actions compared with those of other countries.
Israel should not be singled out for criticism by countries which do not themselves adhere to the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Israel needs to be treated fairly in international organizations, especially in United Nations bodies such as the Human Rights Council.
All countries should recognize Israel's right to exist, and be open to developing diplomatic ties with Israel.
A negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution is the only legitimate, just and viable way to provide for a lasting peace.
The nascent Palestinian state should respect the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. A Palestinian state can only be founded if it respects Israel’s right to exist in security.
Initiatives that help to enable the Palestinians to advance economically and socially should also be supported as a means of stabilising the peace process.
Since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, the Madrid and London train bombs, and the attacks in Bali, Islamic terrorism has posed a major threat to the world, including global Jewry as a target. Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran, has masterminded and perpetrated deadly attacks including the bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Borgas, Bulgaria in 2012, and the 1992 Israeli Embassy and the 1994 AMIA bombings in Buenos Aires, among others. Jews have also been targeted and killed by Islamic terrorists either operated alone or affiliated with a terror groups across Europe, including in Denmark and France.
The advance of radical Islam in many countries creates a fertile climate for terrorist action. It undermines inter-ethnic and inter-faith relations, provides the basis for terrorism and threatens democratic values.
Violence supposedly justified in the name of G-d is misguided. The spread of violence and terror must be fought by eradicating its root causes, halting the proliferation of arms to countries sponsoring terrorism, and by actively defending democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Legislation prohibiting the incitement to terrorist acts and spreading of hate propaganda, particularly by radical clerics preaching in mosques, needs to be adopted and properly enforced.
Governments must be induced to prosecute and, where possible, expel radical Muslim clerics spreading hate messages and inciting violence.
Governments need to provide adequate security measures to protect Jewish centres and Jewish individuals from terrorist threats.
The story of the Jews in Arab lands still forms a major gap in most of the world's knowledge of the history of the Middle East. Jewish presence in what are now Arab lands long predates Islam and the Arab conquest of the Middle East and goes back to Biblical times. In 1945, there were approximately 866,000 Jews living in communities throughout the Arab world. Today, there are fewer than 7,000. In many Arab states, once thriving Jewish communities have all but disappeared. According to official statistics, 856,000 Jews , persecuted and under duress, were exiled from their homes in Arab countries between 1948 and the early 1970s leaving behind substantial property and other assets.
In April 2008, the US House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the recognition of Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab lands. The resolution states that any agreement between Israelis and Palestinians must include recognition of Jewish refugees as well. The resolution makes it clear that the subject should be brought before the UN General Assembly again, to have it recognize the plight of the Arabic Jews. In March of 2014, Canada accepted the recommendation of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that “Canada officially recognizes the experience of Jewish refugees who were displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948.”
Much work has been done by the World Jewish Congress over the years in order to raise awareness of this issue among Jewish communities, elected officials and governmental dignitaries in North America, Europe, and in the United Nations. We have held conferences, special events, lectures, panels, and parliamentary hearings, and so that more people would know about it. We have come a long way and while the issue is better known, there is still too much ignorance. The plight of Jews who fled from, or still live in, Arab lands and their specific concerns are not yet well-known and still needs to be raised with governments and international organizations. To that end, the WJC, in cooperation with organized Jewish community, has urged the United States House of Representatives to propose and pass legislation to mandate that the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands be raised in all relevant talks concerning the Middle East peace process, and reported on to the Congress.
The WJC has well established relations with the Catholic Church, and has played a leading role, both directly and within the framework of ICJIC, in an ongoing dialogue over many decades. This has produced positive results in many cases. The recently adapted Latin text of the Good Friday prayer is a contentious issue. Ongoing discussions to resolve the issue should not impede this important liaison.
Progress, however, is slow with regard to the Orthodox and Protestant Churches. The decentralised nature of these churches and certain political issues related to the Middle East conflict are obstacles to advancement.