I believe that anti-Semitism, just like racism and xenophobia, is not only a Jewish problem or an Israeli problem.
Address by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni to the International Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism
Jerusalem, 24 February 2008
Thank you for this gathering, because it is encouraging. I believe that the fact that we are all here today – not only representatives of the Israeli government or of Israeli society but people who have gathered from all over the world in order to fight this battle – this can make a difference.
Although Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people, I believe that anti-Semitism, just like racism and xenophobia, is not only a Jewish problem or an Israeli problem, but it says everything about the society in which it raises its ugly head. Antisemitism, the way I see it, is a sickness which eats at the core of humanity. It is a plague which the planet cannot tolerate. I firmly believe that only in understanding this can we bring about change.
The challenge must be met by the international community, and Israel, as homeland to the Jewish people is of course part of this battle. In a way, we are on the frontline, but we need the world, the international community and leaders from different parts of the world to work together in order to change the current reality. While for us in Israel, combating antisemitism is part of our foreign policy, I would like to see it as an important part of domestic policy throughout the world.
Sometimes we feel – when I say "we", I refer to society as a whole and to world leaders – that some cases are small and perhaps insignificant, but nonetheless I believe that we cannot turn a blind eye to these cases and situations. For example, when an Israeli coach in Britain gets a hate letter referring to his Jewish origin, it has nothing to do with football but it is directly connected to his being a Jew. Only last week we witnessed a neo-Nazi march in Dresden; it says something. And when a burning object is thrown at a Jewish institution in Los Angeles, it means something.
These are signals that need to be taken into consideration. These are not minor events, because if we tolerate hate material, we will find ourselves tolerating verbal violence. And if we tolerate verbal violence, we will find ourselves in a culture of violence. So we need to take into consideration all these minor acts against minorities, against others, and not only take them into consideration but act together against them.
The key to combating antisemitism, I believe, is an understanding that this is not only a matter for states and leaders; this is something that we expect every individual to understand. Each person should understand that this is something that he or she cannot tolerate when it take place in his or her neighborhood, community or state.
We should be aware of the fact that while we gather here there are other places around the world where there are those who support antisemitism as part of an ideology. These include both state actors and non-state actors. There are organizations, communities and individuals. There are intellectuals, academics and laypeople. They use the Internet, cyberspace and every modern means available. They, in fact, manipulate modern technology and abuse it for their evil cause.
As was said before, and as is clearly understood here in this room, antisemitism has gone through different stages; it began with what was termed "Judenhas" (Jew-hatred) and then antisemitism, but I would like to refer to something that was mentioned also by Minister Herzog. The most recent development in antisemitism is the anti-Zionist or anti-Israel approach, which is classical antisemitism disguised as legitimate, political criticism of Israel. I would like to make it clear: Israel is willing to accept criticism of its acts and decisions coming from the international community as long as this criticism relates to our actions and deeds – but not because of the fact that Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people.
Moreover, there are not many countries in the world which, I don’t want to say criticize their own actions but examine their own actions. Our legal system not only has the full authority to do so, but even when Israel is under attack, it scrutinizes all government decisions according to human values and according to democratic values and systems. And we do so not because we want to say something to the world, not because we want to be loved by the world, but because this is in accordance with our values.
It takes courage to do so, but this is what we do. But there is something that we cannot and will not tolerate. I went to Washington to participate in the memorial ceremony for Tom Lantos. During Tom’s last visit to Israel, we saw Israeli Air Force pilots flying over the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp. I said on that occasion that the Star of David has been transformed from the yellow Star of David on the clothing of prisoners in the camps into the Star of David on Israeli jet planes which defend the State of Israel. But I would also like to add that we are proud that the Star of David is now the flag of the State of Israel, and we are not willing to have it transformed again by antisemites back into the yellow Star of David to be used against Israel. This is over, and part of this gathering is to state that it will never be again.
Talking about states as actors, Iran is the perfect example of a state which denies the Holocaust, while simultaneously trying to achieve a weapon that will perhaps promote another one – this while being a member of the United Nations. I believe that this is unacceptable. Those who want to be part of the international community, to be members of the United Nations, an organization that was created and established after the Second World War, cannot be members of this organization while talking in terms of denial of the Holocaust.
Another example, speaking about the United Nations, is of course the Human Rights Council – the United Nations body that, in a way, accepts these extreme elements which keep trying to single out Israel while dictating their own extreme agenda under the guise of the Human Rights Council. I think that this is also the right time and the right place to refer to Durban, since Durban I was also an example of a travesty which we cannot accept any more.
I would like to explain that the original standpoint of Israel, like other leaders and countries which approach these issues with clean hands, has been to influence from within. Usually, our policy is to participate, to exchange ideas, to change the thinking of those who participate in these kinds of gatherings. But I know, especially after Durban I, that this policy is sometimes mistaken. And there are some mistakes that we cannot afford to repeat because, in coming to and participating in this kind of gathering, trying to influence from within, our participation is often abused by elements with a very clear agenda.
Therefore, I would like to make our position very clear. Israel will not participate and not give legitimacy to the United Nations follow-up conference on racism, what is called Durban II, unless it is proven that the conference will not be used as a platform for further anti-Israeli and antisemitic activities. We call upon the international community and say: Your participation in such conferences gives legitimacy to hatred, extremism and antisemitism under the banner of the "fight against racism". Israel will not take part in such conferences which promote hatred, and we expect like-minded states, countries and leaders to do likewise; because the battle against this phenomenon [of antisemitism] begins with opening our eyes rather than ignoring it, and with refusing to cooperate with this kind of ideas and gatherings.
I would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for the decision of the Government of Canada to pull out of this conference. As I said before, we expect the international community not to be part of it. We are more than willing to participate, to work together in order to hold other gatherings which really address this challenge of racism, but we want to do it the right way, together with the right nations of the world in order to understand what is right and wrong and what is being abused and exploited by the extremists in order to promote their own agenda, which is not a hidden agenda and therefore one which we should put squarely on the table.
So, in between these gatherings I would like to thank Irwin Kotler for taking the role in changing the situation. It’s not only a matter of discussing and gathering once a year or after a few months, but we need to change reality in between. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank John Mann for volunteering to host the Global Forum next year.
Last year I said that, as an Israeli and a Jew, I feel that we all share the same role and participate in the same battle in different forms: one is as an Israeli for the existence of the State of Israel; another is as a Jew against antisemitism; and the third is as a member of the free world against extremism. And we will prevail. Thank you.