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Antisemitism is on the rise, even though governments have pledged to fight it

Commitments to fight Jew-hatred must be followed up with action.

A meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council at the Hofburg in Vienna, 2005. Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev/Wikimedia
A meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council at the Hofburg in Vienna, 2005. Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev/Wikimedia
Leon Saltiel. Photo: Shahar Azran
Leon Saltiel

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which became the first intergovernmental organization to recognize the development of “contemporary antisemitism” in 1990, opens its annual conference on antisemitism today in Skopje, North Macedonia.

The OSCE and its 57 member states are to be praised both for their perspicacity and commitment to combating the scourge of Jew-hatred.

However, they are not alone. An increasing number of governments take this fight seriously. Many have appointed national coordinators, developed strategies, revamped educational efforts, promoted Holocaust memory and taken action to curb hate speech online.

Several international organizations, including the United Nations, have also recognized this critical challenge. At the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, where I serve as the World Jewish Congress representative, we have seen cross-regional coalitions of more than 50 countries demanding—for two consecutive years—international action against antisemitism.

Despite these honest efforts, the OSCE delegates gathered today must still grapple with antisemitism and other forms of hate surging around the globe. Why does this contradiction between government programs and reality exist? Why does it seem so difficult to turn intention into action?

In connection with the OSCE meeting, two relevant reports just released by the World Jewish Congress may help provide an answer. The first draws on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a rigorous self-evaluation mechanism used by the U.N. Human Rights Council. The tool allows for the review of the state of human rights in every U.N. member country and empowers other nations to make recommendations where needed.

We studied the 90,938 recommendations made during the UPR process between April 2008 and July 2021, looking for those that directly referred to the fight against antisemitism and safeguarding the memory of the Holocaust. To our surprise, there were only 70 such recommendations—less than 0.08% of the total.

U.N. member states, despite other attempts to address antisemitism, have unfortunately failed to use the UPR process to raise concerns about Jew-hatred and have not prioritized those concerns in the vast majority of cases. The report showed, for example, that Iran, which promotes antisemitic propaganda around the world, received only two recommendations on this topic—from the Netherlands and Israel.

Likewise, no country has made even one recommendation regarding restrictions on “ritual slaughter,” an important religious ritual in both Judaism and Islam. These are missed opportunities that demonstrate the sad fact that governments have tools at their disposal for the fight against antisemitism, but are not using them.

The second report is a compilation of international commitments to the global fight against antisemitism adopted by the U.N., the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the European Union.

We grouped these recommendations into 12 categories that included condemning all manifestations of antisemitism, appointing an envoy, adopting a national strategy, promoting interfaith dialogue, collecting data and regulating online hatred. These are public commitments. Parliaments, civil society, Jewish communities, academics and the media ought to hold governments accountable for acting on them or failing to do so.

Commitments are not the same as implementation. The report consolidated a variety of tools that governments have at their disposal, such as endorsing and using the IHRA’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, which supports efforts to raise awareness, monitor warning signs and educate. Countries should also regulate internet companies to establish effective systems to monitor and stop antisemitic hate speech and Holocaust denial or distortion online.

The stand-alone national action plans against antisemitism already adopted by Austria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Romania are a solid start. Consistent and effective implementation remains key, as does expanding the group of countries that will mobilize all branches of government against the scourge of Jew-hatred.

As Αlbert Einstein said in 1930, “The position of our scattered Jewish community is a moral barometer for the political world. For what surer index of political morality and respect for justice can there be than the attitude of the nations toward a defenseless minority, whose peculiarity lies in their preservation of an ancient cultural tradition?”

The fight against antisemitism is a fight for the future of open and democratic societies, a struggle against one of the most persistent, corrosive and intrusive forms of hatred. Governments must show through their actions that they fully understand its significance. For our efforts to be successful, we must be decisive. Failure is not an option.

Leon Saltiel is the representative of the World Jewish Congress to the United Nations in Geneva and UNESCO in Paris, as well as the WJC’s coordinator for countering antisemitism.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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