Start time 7:15 a.m. (New York) / 13:15 (Geneva) / 14:15 (Jerusalem)
The World Jewish Congress together with the Permanent Missions of Sweden and Israel in Geneva hosted a side event to Human Rights Council’s 50th session to launch UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed’s 8-point action plan for advancing the fight against antisemitism.
The event was moderated by Ambassador Ulrika Sundberg, Special Envoy for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue of Sweden, who noted “the exponential increase of hate speech also on social media, including antisemitism, in many parts of the world.”
Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar, Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN in Geneva delivered welcome remarks, stressing that “We see conspiracies against Jews, we see attacks on the streets against Jews. We must learn the lessons from our past in ensuring that history never repeats itself.”
Ambassador Federico Villegas, President of the UN Human Rights Council, took the floor and discussed how “societies and the world evolve in order to deal with the past.” He also reminded the audience that when talking about antisemitism “it is a common past, not only a Jewish past.” He also thanked the Special Rapporteur for using the IHRA definition of antisemitism on his report.
Afterwards, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, presented his Eight Point Action Plan for Advancing the Implementation of the Recommendation, as a follow up to his 2019 report to the General Assembly. He warned about the dangers of antisemitic hate speech, remarking its evolution from “everyday prejudice to biased motivation, to discrimination, harassment and ultimately genocide because the Holocaust didn’t begin with gas chambers.”
Dr. Shaheed also drew attention to the fact that “an action plan to combat antisemitism will always be a work in progress for two reasons. One is that antisemitism keeps on moving and changing in new ways and we have to level up to that. Secondly, we must always have feedback on how to learn from good practices.”
Karel Fracapane, Program Specialist at UNESCO, declared that “Combating antisemitism will remain a priority” and that UNESCO “stands ready to support the Member States in this urgent task.” He concluded by saying that UNESCO “stands in solidarity with Jewish communities in Europe and around the world. Fundamentally for UNESCO, this is about defending humanity as a single community sharing values and equal dignity.”
Ambassador Ann Bernes, Chair of the Swedish Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), noted that “not all stakeholders around the world have concrete commitment and follow up mechanism to combat antisemitism.” She believes that “more needs to be done,” and also emphasized that the “generation of Holocaust survivors is sadly leaving us and we are seeing a decline in knowledge about the Holocaust and its consequences.”
Ms. Carole Nuriel, Director of ADL in Israel, thanked Dr Shaheed for his report and stressed the need to “depoliticize antisemitism.”
Dr. Leon Saltiel, Representative to UN in Geneva and Coordinator for Countering Antisemitism of the World Jewish Congress, reiterated the importance of Dr Shaheed’s action plan as a basis for a UN strategy, where member states could also make concrete commitments on how to cooperate with the UN to address antisemitism more effectively.
Finally, Ms. Felice Gaer, Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, expressed the hope that “UN leaders, like all stakeholders engaged in efforts to combat antisemitism, will follow Dr Shaheed’s action plan and use the non-legally binding IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.”
During the discussion, Ambassador Michèle Taylor, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, shared a personal perspective on the importance of combating antisemitism by stating that “more, not fewer, Jewish families and communities are living in a climate of fear, a fear that my own family experienced in the Holocaust not many decades ago, and that Jews throughout the generations have known.”
Ambassador Rita French, UK’s Global Ambassador for Human Rights, thanked Dr Shaheed for his action plan, expressed concern about the increase in antisemitism and announced that 40 million pounds were allocated to the protection of Jewish institutions in the UK.
Ambassador Ahmed Aljarman, Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the UN in Geneva, highlighted that “political and religious leaders can also play a critical role and speak up firmly against antisemitic incidents.” He emphasized that “in this regard, the Abraham accords are an important key to maintaining and strengthening peace and stability.”
Marleen Steenbrugghe, representing the Delegation of the European Union, also welcomed Dr Shaheed’s action plan and reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to combat antisemitism, reminding attendees that “9 out 10 European Jews considers that antisemitism has increased.”
Other representatives that made remarks and asked questions were Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, France, Greece, Palestine, ODIHR and Human Rights Watch. The high-level event was attended by several country Ambassadors and other delegates, both in the room and online.
Antisemitism, the age-old hatred against the Jewish people, has brought about the most catastrophic event in 20th century Europe – the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it is raising its ugly head yet again across the globe, expressing itself in individual and systemic prejudice, online and offline incitement to hatred and violence, and acts of violence. Antisemitism is a serious obstacle to the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and for mutual respect of individuals.
The United Nations, representing the primary international body with a mandate to protect and promote human rights for all, should act as a global leader in the fight against discrimination, xenophobia, and prejudice of any kind, which are contradictory with the values of modern societies and should not be tolerated.
In this regard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, following up on his 2019 report to UNGA, and taking stock of trends in antisemitism, including positive developments as well as continuing challenges has formulated an action plan to further action globally to combat antisemitism.
Sweden, currently holding the Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and Israel are joining efforts with (United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the World Jewish Congress to review trends and discuss strategies for advancing the fight against antisemitism.