Press conference marking the establishment of the International Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism

Remarks by:
Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior
Canadian MP Professor Irwin Kotler
Former Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Per Ahlmark

Sunday, January 6, 2002

Deputy FM Melchior: We are today witnessing a new campaign of anti-semitism throughout the world which finds expression in the demonization of Israel. But anti-semitism is not specifically and only a threat against Jews. Anti-semitism is an existential threat to the basics of civilization, it is a threat against any decency and any democracy. It always begins with the Jews, and never ends with the Jews. Therefore, we need international cooperation.

We are trying to create an overall body which is not specifically Jewish. We want the majority of the overall body to be non-Jewish. This is an international body – the International Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism, ICA – in which the various Jewish bodies, of course, as experts and as parts of the NGO community will be a part, but it will be concentrated on non-Jews. Every country will decide how to set up their national forum. We here will try to provide inspiration. We will be working with the academic world to provide the theoretical basis and the research, so that the fight against anti-semitism will be not only a fight against anti-Semitism, but also a fight for truth and justice.

There will be funding for the Commission from all over the world. I am sure that there are NGOs and governments all over the world which will support this effort, I hope also the Israel government will take its part in the funding in the work here in Israel.

We are talking about activities on all levels – educational efforts, public efforts to bring together people who concerned with the fight for human dignity and human rights, that anti-Semitism be a part of that package. Judicial methods also have to be used. We are going through now legal actions against terrorism in all the countries. There should also be legal actions against ideological terrorism. There are countries today who have laws, who are efficient in this area, and other countries are much lees efficient.

We will also be using diplomacy. One of the problems is that there are several countries who don’t acknowledge the anti-semitism in their countries in a sufficient way. We want to explain to them the seriousness with which we look upon these questions.

Post September 11th has give another excuse for the Jew haters to combine efforts. Look at the Internet and you will find thousands of sites, who combine saying, ‘Israel and the Jews are really behind September 11th’ – either in a sophisticated way, saying that Bin Laden really cares for the Palestinians and that is why he did it,

or, in a less sophisticated way by just saying that the Jews were actually the ones who did this.

Prof. Irwin Kotler: We are today witnessing a new anti-Jewishness – an anti-Jewishness, which is a a dramatic transformation in the sense that it is grounded in classical anti-Semitism, but distinguishable from it – anchored in the ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution, but which goes beyond it. If we needed one line to summarize it, it would be: The discrimination against, or denial of Jewish particularity or peoplehood anywhere, whenever that particularity or peoplehood is Jewish. In other words, the singling out of Israel and the Jewish people for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena; traditional anti-Semitism with the denial of the right of individual Jews to live as equal members in a society.

The new anti-Jewishness is the denial of the right of Jewish people to live as equal members of the family of nations. All that is intrinsic or relevant to each of these forms of anti-Jewishness is, in fact, discrimination. All that has happened is that there was a move from discrimination against the Jews as individuals to discrimination against the Jews as a people.

The problem is that we have indices for measurements of traditional anti-semitism, for the discrimination against Jews in housing, education, employment, etc. The new targets of that kind of discrimination are aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and the like. Individual Jews are not today the ones who are being singled out for discrimination. But it is the Jewish people in its collective sense, where Israel has become as a word – the Jew among the nations – in which this new anti-Jewishness finds expression.

Let me summarize by identifying for you the new indicators, or expressions or examples of the new anti-Jewishness. The first is what I would call political anti-semitism. Political anti-semitism has two dimensions to it: first, the singling out of Israel for differential discriminatory treatment in the form of the delegimitization of Israel and the Jewish people in the international arena, including in bodies such as the United Nations and elsewhere. Secondly, the attribution to Israel of all the evils of the world. In other words, classical anti-semitism was the notion of the Jew as the poisoner of the international wells. The new anti-Jewishness is the notion of Israel as the poisoner of the international wells, and so you’ve got resolutions in the international arena condemning Israel with respect to its assault on women, on labor, on health, on peace, on human rights – Israel is the enemy of each of these things, the enemy of human kind.

The second thing, and I hate to use this word, is that what we are witnessing also is what I would call an existential or genocidal anti-semitism. By that I mean, the public advocacy of the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. This finds expression, for example, in the charters of terrorist organizations like Hamas, and while we talk about a counter-terrorism law and policy, we have yet to address the public call for genocide that finds expression in charters of terrorist organizations. Second, we have what we call the ‘fatwas’, the religious execution writs of radical fundamentalist clerics. Just as you had a ‘fatwa’ against Salman Rushdie which alarmed the world, so you have ‘fatwas’ against the State of Israel and the Jewish people, where Israel has become – if I can use the term – the Salman Rushdie of the nations. The third thing is state sanction, advocacy to genocide which appears on the broadcasting media of some of the Arab states, even in the Palestinian Authority and the like.

A third example of this new anti-Jewishness is what I would call ideological anti-semitism. We know this in terms of the ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution. But this resolution, while it may have been repealed by the United Nations, has long legs and still finds expression today. I can give you many examples, just one for reasons of time: In the year 2002, in the African Charter of Peoples’ Rights and Freedoms, there are references made to Zionism as racism. So it is still on the international agenda.

The fourth is the denial of equality before the law in the international arena. I am referring here, for example, to the singling out of Israel for differential and discriminatory treatments in United Nations sanctions, conferences and alike. Just some examples: The UN Human Rights Commission, which as a law professor we regard as a repository of international human rights law – 30 percent of all its indictments have been against one member state of the international community: Israel. In March and April this year, 2002, when the UN Human Rights Commission will meet again in Geneva, there is one country-specific item devoted just to Israel – Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories. The rest of the world has an item for human rights violation in the rest of the world. So one member state of the international community is singled out in advance of the meeting for differential and discriminatory treatment on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Commission.

The Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict was adopted in 1949. For 52 years nobody was ever brought before the Geneva Convention – not for the genocide in Cambodia, not for the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, not for the genocide in Rwanda, not for the killing fields in Sudan. The first time that an indictment was registered against any country took place in December 2001, when for the first time they convened with regard to an indictment against Israel. I can go on.

Fifth point, the denial of international due process. I am talking about the exclusion of Israel from even participating in international bodies which end up indicting Israel. For example, the exclusion of Israel from any regional configuration in the United Nations means that Israel can never be elected to, or be represented in the major UN bodies, such as the United Nations Human Rights Commission, while the real human rights violators, like Sudan, which was recently elected, enjoy exculpatory immunity.

I’ll just close by listing because time does not permit other forms of anti-Jewishness: economic anti-semitism in the form of the revival of the Arab boycott; Holocaust denial; racist terror in terms of the singling out of Israel and Jews not for differential and discriminatory treatment, but for actually targeting of terrorists acts; the teaching of contempt and the demonizing in the international arena; and finally what I would call legalized anti-semitism, which is moved from classical anti-Semitism to the notion of ‘Zionism as racism’, to anti-Jewishness being carried out under the cover of human rights and under the cover of international agencies which are themselves bound by the principle of non-discrimination – yet this principle of discrimination is carried out against a member state.

Nothing I am saying here is intended to suggest that Israel is somehow not accountable for any violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law, like any other state. That is the point: like any other state. In other words no one would suggest that Israel should be above the law. But Israel is being systematically denied equality before the law in the international arena in the systematic singling out of Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment. It’s not that human rights standards shouldn’t be applied to Israel. They must be, but they must be applied equally to all other countries. It’s not that Israel must respect human rights, which she must, but that the rights of Israel deserve equal respect. So what I am talking here about the new anti-Jewishness, I am talking about the singling out of the Jewish people for differential and discriminatory treatment, and the discrimination against and the denial of the rights of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations.

Mr. Per Ahlmark: Let me make a few brief remarks after 30 years of combating anti-semitism. Anti-semitism always starts with the Jews; it never stops with the Jews. Jew hatred, if not contained, almost always develops into assaults on other groups and minorities, and undermines or destroys democratic institutions and the rule of law.

Also, the struggle against anti-semitism is a task for Jews and non-Jews together. I passionately agree with Rabbi Melchior and his approach here that Jews and non-Jews have to cooperate in these efforts. Anti-semitism is a prejudice among non-Jews. Therefore it is a duty for non-Jews to fight it, and to resist it. However, Jews are the first victims of this non-Jewish disease, and they usually know much more about than non-Jews. Consequently, it is an obligation for Jews to combat anti-semitism, to defend themselves and their society.

Next observation: Always take anti-semites seriously, do believe that they believe in what they are saying. The most catastrophic mistake of the 20th century was that millions of people didn’t think that Hitler actually meant what he wrote and said. Our assumption therefore must be that the Jew-haters of the 21st century are not pretending, they are serious in their convictions. Also the non-Jewish world must now realize that anti-Jewish charters and programmatic statements by individuals and organizations are documents you should study and be prepared to encounter. It’s not just rhetoric, or rather, rhetoric could under special circumstances explode and become guidelines for action.

There are many signs about the lack of sensitivity in the non-Jewish world to current anti-semitic outbursts, and we must never, never forget Durban. The preparations for the Durban Conference in September last year took part in the first half of last year, 2001. It was a scandal because of the bad leadership of the UN Commission for Human Rights. It was based on some sort of UN institution that was used to Israel-bashing as a sort of political ritual. But, primarily, the Durban catastrophe happened because only two nations did live up to reasonable standards of risk awareness, only two democratic nations: Israel and the USA.

Still, when you saw these draft resolutions, especially suggestions made in Teheran, it was kind of political ideological pogrom against Israel and the Jews. According to these suggestions, the Jews were not primarily victims of the Holocaust, no, but they were perpetrators of another Holocaust against the Palestinians. Anti-semitism didn’t mean hostility against Jews, no, but Zionist practices against Semitism. It sounds ridiculous, is ridiculous, but it was a program from the other side. As well of course Zionism was said to be based on racial superiority. In spite of the shameless extremeness of the drafts, most democracies in the world did not react with energy at all against them.

The other lesson from Durban is of course that when after the meeting in London, where Rabbi Melchior and others tried to unite the Jewish world, something happened which was very important: systematic successful efforts were launched to inform and warn all EU countries, and other democracies, both in Europe and outside Europe, that they had been trapped by extremists. That totally changed the political climate and the outcome of the final official Durban Conference.

But there is another observation here, which I have to make, and that is a paradox. Today there are more democracies in the world than ever before. An increasing number of UN members have governments which got their power through free election and free speech. This is not 1975, no communist empire, a democratic Europe, surprising victories of freedom in Latin America, also in parts of Africa and East Asia, and the only remaining super power is the United States. If you read the Freedom House survey which was published a few days ago, and was carried in the press – Freedom in the World 2001-2002 – they are rating all countries on earth on a scale from 1 to 7. Out of the 47 Muslim countries, only one nation, Mali, is regarded free, according to the very clear definition of that word and very clear analysis made by the Freedom House. In the non-Muslim world, however, a clear majority of the 145 countries are free according to the same definition. This is a very dramatic summary: 47 Muslim countries, one is free according a Freedom House; 145 non-Muslim countries, the majority of them are free according to the same definition from Freedom House.

The increasing number of democracies suggests that it should be a fairly easy match for the free countries to resist Arab verbal anti-Jewish aggression in the international arena. Yet, the Durban humiliations did occur, and our adversaries will strike again in the UN, in the international arena, in action to contaminate the world opinion about Jews and the Jewish state.

The conclusion therefore is evident. We have to work very, very hard to convince the leading politicians, the leading diplomats and editors in chief, and other important opinion makers in the free world that their countries have to take a determined stand against new anti-semitism.

Finally, I totally support Rabbi Melchior’s idea of creating the International Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism, it will sound the alarm and make the necessary wake-up calls. I hope this group or organization will be very clear in defining the increasing threat of the new anti-semitism. Compared to most previous anti-Jewish outbreaks, this one is less directed against individual Jews. It attacks primarily the collective Jew, the State of Israel. You could actually say that in the past the most dangerous anti-semites were those who wanted to make the world Judenrein, free of Jews. Today, the most dangerous anti-semite are those who want to make the world Judenstaatrein, free of the Jewish state.