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Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism discuss shared strategies to combat hate

05 May 2021

NEW YORK -- To counter the global rise in antisemitism, the world’s special envoys responsible for fighting this evil presented a resounding call for country-specific and united cross-border focus on deepening and advancing Holocaust education, combating the dissemination of misinformation online, ensuring the physical security of Jewish institutions, prosecuting hate crimes, endorsing adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and fostering Jewish life. These were the shared strategies to combat antisemitism globally that were conveyed during an International Meeting of Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA), conducted as part of the World Jewish Congress’ 16th Plenary Assembly.

After opening with a moment of silence for the 45 lives lost in the Mount Meron Lag BaOmer tragedy in Israel, Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, addressed today’s rise in antisemitism: “Why is it happening now?” he asked. “In 1945, when people saw the pictures of bodies and what the Nazis did to the Jewish people, nobody wanted to be associated with antisemitism. We thought this virus was finally gone, and for two and a half generations, it was. We are now three generations away, and people do not remember what happened, we are not taught in schools what happened, and therefore it’s a blind spot for many people.

“Frankly, there’s no way to combat antisemitism except through education, education, education, and governments working together to fight it. Also, a great deal of antisemitism comes through the internet, and we must do everything we can to stop this hate from reaching so many young people.”

The SECCA convening brought together representatives from Jewish communities in 45 countries, 22 countries’ special envoys, and seven international organizations.

As SECCA co-chair, Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, described the European Commission’s first ever strategy on combating antisemitism, to be adopted later this year. The three-pillar strategy is focused on: 1) preventing and combating antisemitism through policies and legislation including responding to online hate speech and conspiracy myths; 2) protecting Jewish life and strengthening cooperation among different communities in regards to security measures and the assurance of the freedom of religion; and 3) increasing education on the Holocaust and on Jewish life and culture.

Amb. Jovan Tegovski, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia’s IHRA National Coordinator echoed the importance of international cooperation to prevent and educate around antisemitism. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe General Rapporteur on Combating Racism and Intolerance Momodou Jallow reiterated the significance of efforts to ensure the education of policymakers.

The Council of Europe’s Special Representative on antisemitic, anti-Muslim and other forms of religious intolerance and hate crimes Daniel Höltgen noted while there have been improvements combating antisemitism and bigotry online, more must be done. “Freedom of expression is one of our most important fundamental human rights, but there are limits, and the limits are there when hate and crimes begin.”

SECCA co-chair Julius Meinl, WJC Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism, spoke on behalf of the WJC’s work tracking antisemitic incidents and conspiracy myths against Jews related to the COVID-19 outbreak. “Our basic principle,” he shared, “is that the laws and human rights standards offline and online should apply the same. We are increasingly concerned about the use of social networks to spread hatred and antisemitism and have been building close working relations with many of the internet giants to develop guidelines, policies and tools to fight this phenomenon. We have been monitoring all the darkest corners of the web and social networks to identify hubs of antisemitic activity and report them to social media companies.”

He praised Germany and France for adopting laws to curb online hate speech and called on other European countries and parliaments to adopt similar legislation. He highlighted the WJC’s efforts to counter the glorification of Nazi collaborators in countries in Eastern Europe, as well as to train diplomats and education policy officials on how to counter antisemitism through education.

Luisa Ragher, Head of the Human Rights Division of the European External Action Service, added, We will confront antisemitism and we will ensure that ‘never again’ is passed on to the next generations of Europeans.”

As Jewish community representatives shared interventions on behalf of their regions, Mary Kluk, President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, and Chair of the Africa & Australia Jewish Congress, emphasized that even in South Africa, where the Constitution protects religious rights and equality, and antisemitism is relatively low, the past 10 years have left South Africa defending its relationship with Israel. Opponents have called such supporters’ pro-Israel activities as “not in line with South African values,” and “apartheid sympathizers.”

In some countries in Latin America, shared Prof. Marcos Peckel, Latin American Jewish Congress Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism, there is a lack of understanding regarding what antisemitism is, due to lack of familiarity with Jewish people, even though laws exist to prohibit antisemitism as a criminal offense. Prejudices and stereotypes against Jews exist, however, and he warned, though the number of violent antisemitic incidents in in the region has been low, “you cannot underestimate the possibility of antisemitism to appear, rise and become a threat in our midst.”

To prevent antisemitism in the region from worsening, efforts are being undertaken to advance education, engage in interreligious dialogue, collaborate with other organizations to promote pluralism and “to make the identity of Latin America such that everyone belongs,” and lastly, Peckel stressed, “make the laws before we need them, not after.”

Luis Barreiros, Head of Portugal's Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, also flagged that even in countries like his where cases of violent antisemitism are very low, that does not mean that antisemitism does not exist.

Similarly, Jillian Segal, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, acknowledged that while Australia has been spared the trauma of major antisemitic attacks, antisemitism remains a serious presence. The past year has seen 331 antisemitic incidents in the form of assault, intimidation, direct abuse, harassment and threats, and online abuse, and most concerningly, incidents of harassment and abuse of students in Australian junior public schools, as well as the emergence of neo-Nazi organizations and erosion in elected officials’ support of Israel.

Efforts in Australia to combat antisemitism include 1) education, including strengthening obligatory Holocaust education in high schools and partnership with the Catholic school sector, 2) outreach, including youth and grassroots engagement, maintaining close and constructive ties with all political parties, and advancing succession in Jewish leadership, and 3) legal recourse and enforcement against Jewish hate speech including challenging and defeating Holocaust deniers and successfully campaigning for state-level criminal legislation.

On behalf of U.S. President Biden’s administration, Kara McDonald, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Senior Official in the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, emphasized the administration’s commitment to fighting antisemitism.

“We must confront the chilling reality that Jewish communities around the world increasingly live in fear for their safety, and recognize that too often, antisemitic attacks are met with impunity. We must always answer crimes of hate with justice and counter lies with facts. As President Biden has said, each of us must remain vigilant and speak out against the resurgent tide of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry and intolerance here at home and around the world.” She discussed U.S. efforts to build coalitions to combat antisemitism, working with allies to ensure physical security for Jewish communities, helping countries allocate resources and training to document, investigate and prosecute hate crimes, educating the public including youth, and countering Holocaust denial, distortion and minimization.

The scapegoating of Jews during the coronavirus pandemic was cited as a concern by many speakers, including Hungarian Ambassador to the United States Szabolcs Takács.

The Hon. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, discussed the frightening escalation of antisemitism in Canada, as tied to support for Israel and conspiracy theories accusing Jews of manufacturing the COVID-19 virus. “Antisemitism is not only the oldest, most enduring, most toxic and most lethal of hatreds – a paradigm of hate as the Holocaust is a paradigm of radical evil – but it is the canary in the mineshaft of global evil today, a threat to our common humanity.”

“In order to combat antisemitism,” he said, “we must be able to recognize it, identify it and define it.”

As did many fellow speakers, including Rabbi Andrew Baker, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism, Cotler praised the IHRA working definition on antisemitism as authoritative and comprehensive, encouraging governments, universities, law enforcement and international actors to adopt it. He urged the use of a human rights and equality lens to define and combat antisemitism.

Lord Eric Pickles, the United Kingdom’s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, also praised the IHRA definition as a means of addressing antisemitism, explaining that “the fact that the definition is not legally binding is a great strength because it allows easy adoption and it does not require legislation. The fact that it is a working definition makes it stronger. The various examples do not preclude other examples coming on as time progressive. But adoption of the definition is not enough; we must seek ways to practically implement the definition.”

The session culminated with Theo Bertram, TikTok’s Director of Government Relations and Public Policy for Europe, who praised the social media platform’s partnership with the WJC to “protect users from hateful and antisemitic content and to educate them about the Holocaust and Jewish history.”

He explained that the online platform protects users from antisemitism in three ways. First, TikTok enforces rules that users must abide by, including regularly updating policies such as over the past two years, prohibiting content that denies well-documented and violent events, specifically including the Holocaust, that advances conspiracy theories related to COVID, that advances fascist ideologies such as white genocide theory, and that spews misinformation and conspiracy theories that serve as a proxy to spread antisemitism.

Secondly, TikTok employs an enforcement process to ensure the application of the above policies by identifying, through a combination of technologies and human moderation, and removing, harmful, extremist content.

“The vast majority of content is removed before anyone has seen it and mostly before anyone has even flagged it. Our goal is to eliminate hate on TikTok. We are very pleased to be working with the WJC task force to achieve this goal.”

Lastly, Bertram discussed partnership with organizations like the WJC as a critical tool in improving mechanisms to rid the platform of antisemitic content. “Platforms like ours have a critical role to play in educating people. … We’re fully committed and humbled to work with the WJC, and we look forward to continuing to learn and improve from their wisdom and advice and guidance.”

With an important message for all during the first time Switzerland was represented at SECCA, Amb. Simon Geissbühler, head of the Human Security Division of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, said, “As an ambassador for peace and human rights, it is very obvious to me that sustainable peace and democracy can never be achieved as long as Jews are discriminated against physically and verbally attacked, and as long as antisemitic conspiracy and Holocaust denial are spread.”

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