Taking Action to Combat Antisemitism


NEW YORK — The World Jewish Congress, together with the Permanent Missions of Sweden and Israel to the United Nations held a briefing on Thursday to mark the transition from Dr. Ahmed Shaheed to Dr. Nazila Ghanea as the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom Religion or Belief.  

Throughout his tenure as special rapporteur, which ran from 1 November 2016 to 31 July 2022 Shaheed demonstrated a keen understanding of the issues that impact Jewish communities globally. Through two reports issued by his office in 2019 and 2022, respectively, he took stock of trends in antisemitism, including positive developments as well as continuing challenges, and formulated an action plan to advance efforts globally to combat antisemitism. 

During the side event, participants heard in detail from the former Special Rapporteur on the action plan he proposed in his 2022 report on ways forward, and from prominent international experts on the fight against antisemitism. 

Opening the discussion, Sweden’s Permanent Representative Ambassador Ulrika Sundberg set the agenda by explaining that the WJC and Swedish Mission had worked together previously to ensure that UN adopted a focal point of antisemitism, which it has done through the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Thanking Dr. Shaheed for his commitment to fighting antisemitism and bigotry, noting that “fulfilled his mandate well,” and “We have managed to make progress where we didn’t think it was possible.”  

Issuing a firm warning of what can happen if the United Nations fails to take concrete action, Israel’s ambassador Gilad Erdan stated, “Hateful words never remain words. Hateful words turn into action. Violent attacks against Jews have become common place.” He followed this with a call for the UN to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition on antisemitism.  

Shaheed, who earlier this year issued his eight-point action plan, explained that the IHRA definition is essential because antisemitism is difficult to identify and understand. “Hate speech is contextual, so you have to analyze what was said, when it was said, and who said it,” he said.  

Shaheed also pointed out the troubling trend that in some countries, which do not have antisemitic motivations, Jews can find them inadvertently excluded from society when laws are passed that limit their ability to partake in Jewish traditions or practices.  

Dr. Shaheed also drew attention to the fact that an action plan to combat antisemitism will always be a work in progress as antisemitism keeps on evolving and in order to learn from good practices. 

You can read Dr. Shaheed’s 2020 report here.  

Dr. Ghanea, who assumed the post of special rapporteur in August, pledged to “continue the critical work of her predecessors and continue to address violations of human rights all people.”  

The event also featured reflections from UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, Alice Nderuti who serves as the UNSG’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, IHRA Secretary General Katherin Meyer, Canada’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Remembrance Prof. Irwin Cotler, and WJC’s Director of International Relations and other ambassadors.  

Miguel Moratinos UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations: “We will continue our fight. We will continue to improve. We will continue to engage,” he concluded in his message for the future.” 

Alice Nderuti, Special Advisor he the United Nations Secretary General for the Prevention of Genocide asserted that she looks forward implementing Dr. Shaheed’s eight-point action plan and continuing to work with him and welcomed the new rapporteur. 

Katherin Meyer, IHRA Secretary General: “Holocaust distortion is often thought of less serious than Holocaust denial. But that is not the case. While Holocaust denial is often thought of outlandish and on the fringes of society, Holocaust distortion finds its way into the mainstream. Unlike denial, distortion does not question whether the Holocaust happened and therefore it is often treated as an opinion. But let me be clear here: it is not an opinion. There cannot be different opinions about the facts of the Holocaust.”  

Prof. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Remembrance: “the new antisemitism is the discrimination of the denial of, the assault upon, the rights of Israel and the Jewish people to live as an equal member in the family of nations.” 

Yfat Barak-Cheney, WJC’s Director of International Relations and Human Rights: expressed the organization’s sincerest gratitude towards Dr. Shaheed saying, “your work on the issue of combatting antisemitism has been truly remarkable.” 

Antisemitism, the age-old hatred against the Jewish people, has brought about the most catastrophic event in 20th century Europe – the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it is raising its ugly head yet again across the globe, expressing itself in individual and systemic prejudice, online and offline incitement to hatred and violence, and acts of violence. Antisemitism is a serious obstacle to the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and for mutual respect of individuals. 

The United Nations, representing the primary international body with a mandate to protect and promote human rights for all, should act as a global leader in the fight against discrimination, xenophobia, and prejudice of any kind, which are contradictory with the values of modern societies and should not be tolerated. 

Sweden, currently holding the Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and the World Jewish Congress are joining efforts with United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the UN Special Advisor on Prevention of Genocide to review trends and discuss strategies for advancing the fight against antisemitism. 

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