An Unprecedented Report From the United Nations

A United Nations report on anti-Semitism released this week reflects the deep concern that Jews and all civilized people share about the worldwide trend toward bigotry.

The report, “Combatting Antisemitism to Eliminate Discrimination and Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief,” was produced by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. It effectively highlights the troubling phenomenon, putting the international community more firmly on the side of those who are horrified by the surge of anti-Semitism and seek the means to fight against it.

Some praised the U.N. for referring to BDS as “fundamentally anti-Semitic,” a point that Israel and its defenders have been trying to make for some time.

However, this is not quite the case. It gives the impression that such was the conclusion of the U.N. Special Rapporteur. In fact the Rapporteur fell short of condemning BDS outright. (According to the “Advance Unedited Version” of the report seen by Hamodia.)

It does not directly condemn BDS as anti-Semitic, but rather it “notes claims that the objectives, activities and effects of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are fundamentally antisemitic.”

While it is true that the term rapporteur is French for “reporter,” the circumspectness with which the reporter treats the blatant anti-Semitism of BDS deserves attention. By contrast, elsewhere in the report, certain phenomena are taken as facts, without couching it in the language of “noting claims.”

For example, “The Special Rapporteur is alarmed by the increase in antisemitism in many countries, driven by sources including individuals motivated by white supremacist and radical Islamist ideologies.”

The report goes on from there to outline the criticism and defense of BDS, giving equal time to both. Having presented both sides, as in a moderated, gentlemanly debate, the Rapporteur closes the section on BDS with a general condemnation of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Thus, the Rapporteur stands off to the side in a pose of quasi-journalistic neutrality, describing the undeniable reality as merely a claim, which may or may not be justified.

However, it must be admitted that for the U.N., this is significant progress. In that sense, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, was right when he praised the report as “unprecedented.”

It must also be said that the report does not confine itself to describing what exists, but makes a long list of recommendations for action to combat the rise of anti-Semitism (which it characterizes as an “apparent” increase).

Among the recommendations: “The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism can offer valuable guidance for identifying antisemitism in its various forms, and therefore encourages States to adopt it for use in education, awareness-raising and for monitoring and responding to manifestations of antisemitism.”

That definition of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by IHRA in 2016 and has been accepted by the U.S. State Department, includes various anti-Israel activities, such as those employed by BDS activists in their campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel.

The IHRA definition reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

It is hard to argue with, and does not seem like much of an achievement, but it was a long time in coming. The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) conducted its first study of anti-Semitism in the European Union in 2004. Its researchers discovered that statistics-keeping was limited, and most countries lacked any definition of anti-Semitism to guide them in fighting the scourge.

If the new U.N. Rapporteur feels compelled to recommend that countries adopt the IHRA guideline, it is surely an indication that there is still much work to be done, even on the level of defining anti-Semitism, all the more so in combating it.

One final point: Among the numerous recommendations is that concerning educators, who “can develop curricula…that challenge and counteract antisemitic attitudes.

“Effective methodologies for educating students about antisemitic narratives include exploring the history of stereotypes, examining the role of power dynamics in such prejudices and acknowledging shared responsibility for identifying and rejecting antisemitic tropes,” the report said.

The recommendation might be sent for consideration to the administrators of Columbia University, whose invitation to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to speak on campus provoked protests this week. And if anyone doubts that he’s an anti-Semite, it was reported on Wednesday that when confronted by a Columbia student, he said that he’s “glad to be labeled an anti-Semite.”

Then again, perhaps this is Columbia University’s version of “curricula that challenge and counteract antisemitic attitudes.” Exposure to such bigots may prove to be an “awareness-raising” experience, in the words of the U.N. report.

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