UN steps up to the plate at special virtual Conference
By Yair Chelouche
At Monday’s United Nations Alliance of Organisations (UNAOC) virtual conference on “Exploring Holistic Approaches to Combating Antisemitism”, Lay of the Land’s Rolene Marks addressed the impressive gathering, which UN leading official Miguel Moratinos, called for “greater international recognition of antisemitism and more focus on the role of social media in the spread of online hate.”
Other speakers included Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Katharina Von Schnurbein, Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life at the European Commission; Lord Eric Pickles, the UK’s Special Envoy for Post Holocaust Issues; Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism Nihal Saad, Chief of Cabinet and Spokesperson for the High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and UNAOC goodwill ambassador Rabbi Arthur Schneier.
Moratinos, who was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February 2020, to serve as the UN focal point for monitoring antisemitism and improving a system-wide response, said that although the majority of anti-Semitic attacks have taken place in Europe or the US, “our outreach efforts should extend beyond those regions to Africa, Asia and Latin America.”
He also stressed that “it is equally important that any criticism directed towards the government of Israel is not used as an incitement towards Jews or sacred Jewish sites.”
Stressing the urgency, Dr. Robert Williams, Deputy Director of International Affairs at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum said “Antisemitism is worse now than at any point since 1948. So the time to act is now before it is too late and we must do it together.”
Representing the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), hereunder follows Lay Of the Land Rolene Mark’s address to the UN conference:
“Your Excellency’s, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour to speak here today on behalf of WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation.
During our century’s worth of work in civil society, WIZO has demonstrated the ability to recognize antisemitism in our Federations around the world and adapt and respond accordingly as well as work closely with the UN on the various bodies and cities where we are represented. Throughout history, antisemitism – the oldest hatred – has always manifested itself in different ways and often adapts to fit the unique political situation of a country. In our organisation’s 100 year history, our global family has endured fascism, communism, Apartheid, the rise of the BDS movement that aims to challenge Israel’s sovereignty, and conflict in Israel and with that, the usual scapegoating of Jewish communities – many times resulting in violence and even death. We have lost federations to the Holocaust but never the values and the will to ensure that we are in the forefront of fighting hatred.
Today, against the backdrop of the global Covid pandemic and the role of social media in creating communities of hate and propagating conspiracy theories, misinformation and sometimes sanctioning violence, civil society organisations like ours that have always responded to the needs of society, especially the most vulnerable, including minority communities, are committed to including education, resource sharing and the empowerment of our members to be able to confront the issues threatening both their communities and assaults on the legitimacy of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. We need to recognize the threats that come from the far left, who are often the leading voices on the assault on the legitimacy of Israel as much as the far right who are seen as the purveyors of a more sinister form of antisemitism.
People around the world are having important and necessary and long overdue conversations about racism and the imperative of tolerance. Antisemitism has to be a part of that conversation. WIZO has identified the need to expand the scope of our work to ensure that our federations have the tools and resources that are specific to the to the threats and challenges in their countries and knowhow to confront them as well as increase our outreach to other minority communities with similar concerns.
We have ensured that we are very much a presence wherever the opportunity to confront antisemitism and anti-Zionism presents itself. More often than not, having the word Zionism in our name makes us a target for antisemitism. Education about Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people could also be explored when putting together educational curriculum.
One of the areas needing greater focus is social media. If users are mandated by law to join using their full and proper names, as well personal images, it makes it that much more difficult to hide behind avatars and fake identities and easier to trace if they are hate speech super spreaders. Our young people, vulnerable to the rhetoric on social media are in the frontline of this battle – and many of them are too fearful to identify as Jewish, lest they are targeted. University campuses are hotbeds of hatred – especially during this month when the BDS led, Israel Apartheid Week that exploits the suffering of the victims of apartheid to push a hate filled agenda of delegitimisation winds its way across the world.
The adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the inclusion of Holocaust education in schools and universities around the world is vital in helping to combat this spreading virus of hatred. It is also recommended that traditional and social media platforms adopt IHRA so that they can better understand antisemitism, which is the forbearer of other hatred, while still providing a platform for free speech – just not hate speech.
We need to engage with and mobilise civil society organisations, work with educators and policy makers and leaders, business owners and social media influencers. It is particularly alarming to learn how many young people have little or no knowledge of the Holocaust. The next generation understands the language and message of social justice – we need to ensure that the dangers of antisemitism are part of that understanding by continuing to engage with them in the language that they speak. Human rights icon, Natan Sharansky spoke of the 3 D’s of antisemitism – demonization, delegitimatision and double standards. We need to engage the next generation in another D – defeating it.
We said never again. Never again is now!
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