By Adam Moses
Global antisemitism was the ‘hot topic’ during a ‘special envoy’ meeting at World Jewish Congress’ 16th Plenary Assembly.
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder called for “education, education, education” to combat the rise in antisemitism.
The Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA) gathering included representatives from Jewish communities in 45 countries. Amongst delegates were 22 special envoys from different countries and seven international organisations.
The assembly paid respect to the 45 victims of the Mount Meron Lag BaOmer tragedy in Israel.
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder addressed the 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.”
Lauder added, “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, we must do everything we can to stop this hate from reaching so many young people.”
SECCA co-chair, Katharina von Schnurbein, overviewed the European Commission’s strategy to combat antisemitism which would focus on policies and legislation whilst co-chair, Julius Meinl outlined work to track conspiracy theories against Jews related to COVID-19.
“We have been building close working relations with many of the internet giants to develop guidelines, policies and tools to fight this phenomenon,” Meini commented. She added, “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.”
Meini praised Germany and France for adopting laws to curb online hate speech and called on other European countries to adopt similar legislation. He also highlighted efforts to counter the glorification of Nazi collaborators, educate diplomats and policy officials on countering antisemitism.
Daniel Holtgen, Council of Europe’s Special Representative on Antisemitism, called for improvements to bigotry online. “Freedom of expression is one of our most important fundamental human rights, but there are limits when hate and crimes begin,” he explained.
Luisa Ragher, European External Action Service, added, “We will ensure that ‘never again’ is passed. On other continents, Mary Kluk, Africa & Australia Jewish Congress Chair, explained that the past decade had seen South Africa defend its relationship with Israel, while Prof. Marcos Peckel, Latin American Jewish Congress commissioner, stated that you could not underestimate the possibility of antisemitism would “appear, rise and become a threat”.
“Make the laws before we need them, not after,” Peckel noted.
Antisemitism remained a serious presence in Australia. The past year had seen over 330 antisemitic incidents including abuse of students in junior public schools, the emergence of neo-Nazi organisations and erosion in elected officials’ support of Israel.
In America, Kara McDonald, US State Department Bureau of Democracy, emphasised 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 recognise that too often, antisemitic attacks are met with impunity,” she noted. “We must always answer crimes of hate with justice and counter lies with facts.”
She added, “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.”
Irwin Cotler, representing Canadian interests, discussed an escalation of antisemitism tied to support for Israel and conspiracy theories.
“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,” he explained, adding, “In order to combat antisemitism we must be able to recognise it, identify it and define it.”
Lord Eric Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, said that COVID-19 had shown antisemitism was “alive, kicking and adaptable”.
Lord Pickles spoke about how Jewish people had been “blamed” for the spread of the pandemic and been accused of profiting from vaccine sales. He also expressed “shock” at “age-old antisemitic tropes” against Jewish owners of football clubs involved in the European Super League.
Describing the reluctance of some UK, Europe and US universities to adopt the IHRA definition as “extraordinary”, it was “even more extraordinary”, Lord Pickles noted that the IHRA is seen by some as an “attack on academic freedom”.
Lord Pickes called on “great educational institutions” to lead the charge on antisemitism.
Theo Bertram, TikTok’s Director of Government Relations and Public Policy for Europe, praised the social media platform’s partnership with WJC to protect users from “hateful and antisemitic content” whilst also educating on the Holocaust and Jewish history.
Bertram explained that TikTok bans Holocaust content that advances conspiracy theories related to COVID-19, fascist ideologies and those that serve as a proxy to spread antisemitism.
TikTok employs a combination of technologies to remove extremist content.
“The vast majority of content is removed before anyone has seen it and mostly before anyone has even flagged it,” Bertram noted, “Our goal is to eliminate hate on TikTok. We are very pleased to be working with the WJC task force to achieve this goal.”
Bertram also discussed a partnership with WJC to improve mechanisms to rid the platform of antisemitic content.
“Platforms like ours have a critical role to play in educating people,” he said. “We’re fully committed and humbled to work with the WJC.”