Speaking at the recent Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, in Jerusalem, Professor Robert Wistrich identified what he called “a stunning paradox”.
“Never before has it been so unacceptable to be antisemitic, yet at no time since 1945 have Jewish communities been so fearful of its eruption,” he argued.
I was present in Durban for the early ripples of the antisemitic tsunami at the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in 2001. I was also at the very positive OSCE meetings in Berlin and Cordoba a few years later, as well as the impressive and constructive Stockholm Forums which book-ended the other meetings. It is clear that two very different environments are being developed contemporaneously, but that the existence of each would seem to rule out the other.
Canadian parliamentarian Prof. Irwin Cotler noted the corruption of language and principles which has been legitimising the vile antisemitism which has become almost ubiquitous in international forums since the UN WCAR. “Israel is delegitimised, if not demonised, by the ascription to it of the two most scurrilous indictments of twentieth-century racism – Nazism and Apartheid”.
The absurdity and offensiveness of attributing Nazism to the Jewish state is self-evident, while, as Cotler argued, the “struggle against racism [is being used] as a pretext to dismantle Israel, [since] you dismantle an apartheid state. As a person who struggled against apartheid, this is a pernicious use of [that idea].”
While there is a developing body of institutional responses to antisemitism at the multilateral and state level, as Prof. Anthony Julius QC argued, the current challenge is antisemitism not from the state but from “the chattering classes”, including a coterie of individuals who are “proud to be ashamed to be a Jew”.
The changing technologies which can broadcast antisemitism, and responses to it, are being used with harmful effect by the individuals and groups who act outside the structure of states or formal institutions.
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, noted that, with modern technology, the antisemitic “Big Lie [of Jewish world domination] can spread to billions in seconds.”
Another problem has arisen with the actions of states, primarily Iran, in fostering hatred, with willing agents acting on the same agenda in many other countries.
The explosion of rhetoric and incitement in the name of Islam, which is always hateful, generally contemptuous and sometimes openly genocidal, has created enormous challenges for multicultural societies, as well as in international bodies where promoters and apologists of this evil are present and unabashed. Consideration of the strategy for addressing this problem was enhanced by the presence, and contribution, of Sheikh Abdullah Darwiche of the Islamic Movement in Israel at the Conference Dinner.
Strategies considered as part of the package of responses to the cluster of phenomena which constitute contemporary antisemitism were the use of legislation and law, (where I had the opportunity to discuss with intelligent and focused interlocutors the federal racial hatred cases dealt with in Australia); more effectively combating antisemitism on university campuses, developing coalitions through dialogue and understanding of mutual interests, and also having Jewish organisations and activists work more cooperatively and with a renewed sense of urgency.
The parliamentarians, academics, NGO representatives and community professionals invited to take part in the forum all participated in high-level and constructive working groups, with networking possibilities and opportunities for future cooperation seized upon by many in attendance.
The forum was marked by realism, by serious approaches to complex issues, a willingness by participants to learn from each other and healthy, robust debate. The challenge now is to shape the energy, creativity, talent and wisdom in to an effective counter to the reemergence from the shadows of the “oldest hatred.”