The World Jewish Congress took part in a workshop from 13 May to 18 May 2020 organized by UNESCO and the United Nations Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect (OSAPG). The workshop, which focused on using education as a tool to combat hate speech, was held online due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The workshop is part of the preparation for the ‘Global Education Ministers Conference and Multi-stakeholder Forum,’ which aims to address strategies to combat hate speech through education. The conference took place amid a rise of antisemitic conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus. Leon Saltiel, WJC’s Representative at UNESCO and Coordinator on Countering Antisemitism, spoke at the workshop on behalf of the organization about the steps WJC is taking to combat antisemitism. He was among some 20 world-renowned experts, including youth representatives, human rights experts and education specialists, who were tasked to review existing evidence on addressing and countering hate speech, exchange good practices and develop a strategy to boost states' capacity to address the phenomenon on and offline through education
In his remarks, Saltiel called on governments to “prioritize the fight against antisemitism through education, and in that way counter hate speech, promote critical thinking, and safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”
High-level representatives from across the spectrum of the international community have voiced concern regarding the increase in racism, antisemitism, extremism, and other forms of xenophobia during the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. This month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres denounced a “tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering,” unleashed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for an all-out effort against hate speech In April, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed warned of an alarming rise of antisemitic hate speech since the coronavirus outbreak. In a statement, Shaheed called for countries to “invest in preventive security measures and enact appropriate hate crime legislation.”
In a Fox News editorial, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder wrote, “blaming Jews for the coronavirus has become a guiding force for antisemites worldwide...The truth is, Orthodox rabbis have closed synagogues, schools and ritual baths and encouraged congregants to stay home. Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has urged Jews to cease coming together to pray at the holy site of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.”
“As unequivocally as I stand against this latest evolution of hate directed against my people, it is vital that the Jewish people and all Americans take an unyielding stand against any and all efforts to vilify any individual, community, people or nation for the crisis unfolding around us,” Lauder wrote. “This is a moment for coming together in a globally shared experience as we recognize what we have in common, not for driving wedges or parroting falsehoods that only add to the anxiety in our midst.”
In January, President Lauder submitted a statement to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), saying that education is one of “the most crucial tools at our disposal to prevent the proliferation of hatred.” In his letter, Lauder called for legislation to “be enacted against online hate, to ensure that social media companies, conventional media outlets, websites, and blogs, both large and small, are held accountable for the content they host and the implications of its exposure.”