This coming May, 800 delegates from over 51 countries will travel to Jerusalem not to enjoy the sunny Israeli weather but rather to discuss the prolonged eclipse that has clouded the streets of Europe in growing intensity in recent times.
The 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism (GFCA) will convene next month (12-14 May) in Jerusalem to discuss the renewed threat to Jewish communities and individuals around the globe, a threat we had all hoped belonged solely to the past.
In the same week that Europe celebrates the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, these concerned delegates will gather in Israel’s capital to try and understand how the seven-decades-old vow of “Never Again” has been forgotten by so many.
In recent years, there has been a measurable rise in antisemitic violence directed toward Jewish individuals, communities, institutions, schools and synagogues in Europe and elsewhere.
Jews have been subjected to ugly hate speech and physical attacks while their synagogues and cemeteries have been desecrated. The summer of 2014 saw an eruption of protests permeated with antisemitism in major European capitals in magnitudes not seen in decades. Today, in many communities, Jews can no longer publicly identify themselves without legitimately fearing for their safety while in parts of Europe, Jewish religious practices are under legislative attack. The return of jihadi terrorists with EU citizenship presents a major security threat, first and foremost for Jewish communities. Most horrific of all, recent terrorist attacks have effectively targeted Jews for death in Paris, Brussels, and Copenhagen.
Surveys conducted during 2013 and 2014 by respected international NGOs and intergovernmental bodies, including the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and America’s Anti-Defamation League (ADL), confirm that Jewish communities in many parts of Europe are being menaced, including with threats to their basic rights.
In many European countries, systematic examinations of antisemitic incidents conducted by official security bodies show a rise of over a 100% in comparison to previous years. In many nations, the percentage of hate crimes committed against Jews (out of the total number of hate crimes against all minorities) is far higher than the proportion of Jews amongst the general population of those countries.
On the positive side, 2014 saw many world leaders step up to denounce these developments, including strong condemnations of antisemitism issued by heads of state and the foreign ministers of Italy, France and Germany. International organizations also acted, including the OSCE, which last November reaffirmed its 2004 Berlin Declaration on Antisemitism. In August, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that he deplores the recent upsurge in antisemitic attacks, particularly in Europe. These positive developments continued in 2015: on 22 January, the General Assembly of the United Nations held a Special Session on the subject, calling on all its members to take action to stop the spread of antisemitism.
This progress is not enough. Now, more than ever, the growing manifestations of antisemitism necessitate the meeting of a forum dedicated to finding ways of contending with this threat to individuals, communities and human rights in general.
The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism (GFCA) is the premier biennial gathering for assessing the global extent of antisemitic phenomena and then formulating effective societal and governmental responses.
The GFCA is an active coalition of public figures, political leaders, leading members of civil society, clergy, journalists, diplomats, educators and concerned citizens dedicated to advancing tolerance and defeating antisemitism and other forms of racial and ethnic hatred. The forum serves as an important meeting place for the exchange of knowledge and for formulating a global work plan.
This year’s Global Forum will focus on two main themes. The first is the spread of the “oldest hatred” through the newest mediums, as antisemitic material is freely disseminated on the internet and via social media. These new forms of global interconnectedness have given us unprecedented tools to acquire knowledge and advance free expression; however, they can also present unprecedented challenges to human dignity. Unfiltered cyberhate – including antisemitic hate speech, strategies, plans and campaigns – can now be delivered directly and discretely to portable devices. The question then arises of how we can increase the moral integrity of the internet without limiting its essential freedom.
The second focus will be on the recent revival of antisemitism in Europe and the search for effective responses. Many issues are to be examined, among them the question of why this is happening in Europe now. What steps can be taken by the leadership in Europe to defeat the new wave of antisemitism in their cities? Is there a structural threat to Jewish life?
These questions and more will be discussed in an open atmosphere and in a practical manner. The GFCA seeks concrete actions, both those with immediate effect and measures that will bear fruit in the long run.
The GFCA prides itself on its unique structure that focuses on civil society and enables every concerned citizen or NGO representative to contribute to finding solutions.
Governments alone cannot solve this entrenched problem. Thus, on the concluding day of the Global Forum, twelve working groups will be devoted to preparing an Action Plan for Combatting Antisemitism.
Any forum participant can join one of these working groups. Groups will be devoted to a number of topics, including antisemitism in different geographic areas. Other groups will deal with thematic aspects of antisemitism, such as antisemitism in the guise of the delegitimization of Israel and anti-Zionism; antisemitism on the internet and in the media; and Holocaust denial and distortion. Some groups will debate different tools to confront antisemitism, such as legal measures, legislation and enforcement; interfaith dialogue as a means for mitigating antisemitism; education for tolerance and mutual respect; and the role of international organizations.
One of the primary messages that the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism hopes to convey is that this form of hatred is not only a problem for the Jewish people. Wherever antisemitism is allowed to raise its ugly head, the infringement of the basic rights of other minorities is sure to follow, whether they be the rights of cartoonists to free expression or the rights of women, Roma, Sinti, ethnic minorities and of the LGBT community. In the end, even the right of majority populations to live free of the fear of intolerance towards anyone with a different opinion, appearance or belief will be in doubt.