Last week’s London Conference on Combating Antisemitism, held Feb. 16 and 17, drew more than 120 lawmakers from more than 40 countries to devise an effective framework and forge new strategies to confront antisemitism on a global scale. Launched by the new Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, the conference was co-sponsored by the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government. For a comprehensive overview as reported in the news, see the coverage from the UK’s Jewish Chronicle. For a sampler of some of the most noteworthy commentaries, see below…
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post
I consider myself a “Daniel Pearl Jew.” Like that Wall Street Journal reporter Islamist terrorists kidnapped then beheaded in Pakistan – whom I never met – I was born in the early 1960s into the post-Auschwitz covenant. The world had sinned against our people, but now condemned anti-Semitism. We felt especially protected as Americans. Welcomed by America’s meritocratic openness, we were lucky enough to attend elite schools, I went to Harvard; he went to Stanford. Our final layer of protection came from working as professionals for world class institutions, me at McGill University, him at the Wall Street Journal. Pearl interviewed Islamic fundamentalists unafraid – he was a Wall Street Journal reporter in a post-Holocaust world, after all.
Pearl’s brutal beheading after being forced to say “I am a Jew,” symbolized the new surge of antisemitism from Islamist barbarians. This resurgence, fueled by genteel enablers on campuses and in the media, violated the post-Auschwitz covenant. Few of us have paid the price Daniel Pearl and his family did. Nevertheless, too many of us have experienced an unhappy step back toward our grandparents’ world, a world populated and marred by too many antisemites.
FOR THAT REASON, the London Conference on Combating Antisemitism held February 16 through 18, was so significant – and potentially healing. Watching 125 parliamentarians from 42 different countries devote two and a half days to discussing this curse, was sobering yet inspiring. The magnificent setting in the House of Parliament and historic palaces generated a mystical sense of historical tikun, repairing, as so many non-Jewish politicians denounced this old-new malady in halls of power that once helped perpetuate it. Cocktails at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s majestic home adorned with severe portraits of pinched predecessors who detested Jews, felt particularly redemptive.
The words spoken were even more splendid than the buildings, evoking a collective power repudiating this hateful prejudice. John Mann, the member of Parliament who hosted the gathering, is an altruist with no Jewish connection, few Jewish constituents, but an aversion to injustice. “We have drawn a line,” he thundered in closing the conference, “and those who cross it – we will re-educate or we will knock down.”
Earlier, the Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, co-founder with Mann of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, explained the need for such a conference. He described the new antisemitism’s “globality and toxicity,” generated by a pathological Islamist ideology, fueling genocidal threats against Israel from Iran, spread by the Internet, echoed by useful idiots who overlook Islamist’s fascist tendencies in their zeal to tag Israel with the sins of Nazism and Apartheid. This demonization transforms the traditional hatred of the individual Jew into an unreasoning prejudice and unremitting campaign against Israel, the collective expression of the Jewish people.
Amid all these eloquent ministers and righteous legislators, a highlight was the appearance of that hero who showed that sometimes good men can triumph over evil systems, Natan Sharansky.
BEYOND THE RHETORIC and the ringing tones of the London Declaration the parliamentarians ratified, a parallel conference of experts analyzed strategies for combating antisemitism. The conference showed that:
- It is possible to criticize Israel without degenerating into antisemitism; it becomes antisemitic when Israel is treated as individual Jews have been treated over the centuries, singled-out, disproportionately criticized, demonized.
- Islamism is the enemy. Denis MacShane, Labour MP, writes in his important new book, Globalising Hatred: “Islamism the ideology … has unleashed new twenty-first century antisemitism and it is impossible to discuss the problem without dealing with Islamism.”
- There are many ways to criticize Israel but those who call Israelis Nazis or invoke the historically inaccurate analogy of apartheid racism malevolently link Israel with the 20th century’s two great national sinners to justify Israel’s ostracism and destruction.
- Thanks to the Internet, antisemitic material that marginal characters once peddled wrapped in brown paper can now be cited unwittingly by students who stumble onto information manipulated to appear at the top of the Google search engine.
- In April the review of the infamous Durban conference will probably give modern antisemitism renewed respectability. Inviting other countries to join Canada in boycotting this farce, the Canadian Minister Jason Kenney challenged Europeans for waiting for the Americans or worrying about the UN’s sensibilities, saying: “I always thought Europe prided itself as having its own independent foreign policy aligned with its own values and interests.”
THE FIGHT against antisemitism must be proactive not just reactive. Smart coordinating strategies between Jewish institutions and local police forces in both England and Canada have improved community intelligence, increased police effectiveness, while empowering individuals. On the Internet, defensive strategies are insufficient. Educators must envision Citizenship 2.0, teaching students to avoid polluting on line-discourse themselves, to combat on-line hate, to be critical of sources on-line, and to use the net’s grassroots power to defend democratic values against purveyors of hate.
At the opening breakfast, England’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks praised the gathering’s cross-party and international nature. “I want to bless you for being here,” he said. “One of the worst things about being hated is the fear that you are alone. We are not alone.”
We are blessed. In the name of Daniel Pearl and other victims, in the name of the Holocaust martyrs who had no such conference to try saving them, in the name of Jewish students harassed on campuses, in the name of French Jews beaten by fresh converts to Islam forced by their new co-religionists to prove their loyalty, the 125 honorable parliamentarians proved this is not the 1930s. We cannot let the Islamists and their enablers Left and Right win. We should follow leaders like John Mann and Irwin Cotler, spearheading this army of righteous people to repair the post-Auschwitz covenant, and combat Jew hatred as part of the broader fight against bigotry worldwide.
The writer, a professor of history at McGill University, is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, was recently published by Basic Books.