TEL AVIV – World Jewish Congress General Counsel and Associate Executive Vice President Menachem Rosensaft addressed the opening session of a conference that brought together some of the top legal minds in the Jewish world on Sunday in Tel Aviv. The event, hosted by the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, highlighted the organization’s 50 years of legal confrontation with antisemitism.
In delivering his remarks, Rosensaft commented that the law must play a crucial role in the fight against this age-old hatred, stating, “laws defining antisemitic manifestations as hate crimes manifestations are useful tools in the fight against political or racist actions that target Jews. In a broader context, core international documents of a judicial or even supra-judicial nature such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide constitute enormous steps forward in forging a more just global society.”
Founded in 1969, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists strives to advance human rights everywhere, including the prevention of war crimes, the punishment of war criminals, the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction, and international co-operation based on the rule of law and the fair implementation of international covenants and conventions.
The Association is especially committed to issues that are on the agenda of the Jewish people and works to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and negation of the State of Israel.
The following is the full transcript of Rosensaft’s address:
I am honored to represent the World Jewish Congress at this important international conference of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and am most grateful to Meir Linzen and Irit Kohn for inviting me to share some thoughts with you this evening.
Before doing so, however, please allow me to make a brief observation as a point of personal privilege, as it were.
As I find myself sharing a stage with Isaac Herzog, I am quite certain that more than 74 years ago, Bougie, when your father, then an officer in the British Army, and my parents, who had only recently emerged from the horrors of the Shoah, first met in the Displaced Persons camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany, they could not have imagined that their sons would one day stand together here in this amazing museum, on the campus of this spectacular university, which are at the heart of a Jewish State that was then still a goal, an aspiration, rather than reality.
The law, Gilbert & Sullivan’s Lord High Chancellor famously declared, “is the true embodiment of everything that's excellent, It has no kind of fault or flaw ….” As we all know, this statement is only partially accurate. The law – covering under its broad umbrella legislation, enforcement and both judiciary and statutory interpretation – can be the most important instrument in combating discrimination and oppression and promoting civil and human rights. From our at times overly narrow, not to say parochial, perspective, laws defining antisemitic manifestations as hate crimes manifestations are useful tools in the fight against political or racist actions that target Jews. In a broader context, core international documents of a judicial or even supra-judicial nature such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide constitute enormous steps forward in forging a more just global society.
At the same time, we also know that “the law” – writ small – can be an instrument that furthers discrimination, oppression, and worse. My friend Meir Linzen and I are both sons of Holocaust survivors. Our families, and the families of many in this hall this evening, were the targets of a regime that distorted and manipulated laws to perpetrate what was without question the greatest injustice in the history of humankind. Irina Nevzlin’s family had similar experiences in the Soviet Union where duly promulgated laws were twisted, often perverted, to deny rather than further human rights and freedoms.
When I teach about the law of genocide that has evolved since the end of the Holocaust, I also make clear to my students that in most cases the perpetrators of genocide and other crimes against humanity try to cloak their homicidal actions under a veneer of purported or pseudo-legality.
I preface my greetings this evening on behalf of the World Jewish Congress with these remarks because they highlight the critical importance of the mission of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. As you will hear over the course of the next 24 hours, antisemitism is not just alive but is flourishing in many parts of the world, as are other incarnations of racism and bigotry, and we need to marshal all available resources to at least combat, if not actually defeat, the contemporary resurgence of ideologies that can only be characterized as evil.
As most of you know, the World Jewish Congress represents and advocates on behalf of more than 100 Jewish communities across the globe, interceding where necessary on their behalf before governments and international organizations and institutions. Since its establishment in Geneva more than 83 years ago, the WJC has functioned to a large extent as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people.
In the same vein, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists is very much the judicial or, perhaps better, jurisprudential arm of the Jewish people. You have gathered under your umbrella some of the best and most sophisticated legal minds from around the world to safeguard and protect the legal rights and interests of Jews and Jewish communities.
The IAJLJ is an important affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, especially at a time when even Jewish religious rights are under attack. Together, we need to find effective and at times innovative ways to fight not only against neo-Nazi incitement and violence, but also against legislative attempts to ban Brit Mila and Shekhita, circumcision and the ritual slaughter of animals in accordance with Jewish religious law.
At the same time, we must remain conscious of the fact that Jewish rights and the defense of Jewish interests, whether political or legal, does not and cannot exist in a vacuum.
In an address at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome earlier this month, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder reminded us all that:
“Human fraternity is the core of our existence . . .. Racism is absolutely unacceptable. We must eradicate it. Antisemitism is absolutely unacceptable. We must eliminate it. Islamophobia is absolutely unacceptable. We must erase it. Attacks on Christian communities and on Christian individuals are absolutely unacceptable. We must stop them — and prevent their recurrence. But the campaign against racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-Christian attacks will be infinitely more effective if it is united. Christians should lead the defense of Jews and Muslims. Muslims should lead the defense of Christians and Jews. Jews should lead the defense of Muslims and Christians. And we must all stand together against racism.”
We, the IAJLJ as well as the WJC, must not lose sight of the interrelated realities that when we fight for Jewish rights, we fight for human rights generally, and when we prevail on behalf of the Jewish people, we prevail on behalf of society at large.
On behalf of World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, Executive Vice President Maram Stern, and our entire organization, I am honored to extend the warmest best wishes and congratulations to Irit Kohn, to Meir Linzen, and to all the brilliant and talented women and men who comprise the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. We look forward to many years of working together in friendship.