May 29, 2013

Does Israel get to define "anti-Semitism"?

A true Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism should not be sponsored by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which understandably has its own agenda -- and limitations -- regarding the fight against anti-Semitism. The Israeli Government's priority has to be promoting and defending the State of Israel, which explains why Prime Minister Netanyahu's video greeting stressed anti-Semitism as the motivation for criticism of Israel, including the common claim that Israel isn't pursuing peace; he barely mentioned anti-Semitism as a phenomenon targeting Diaspora Jews.

With Senator (then-Rep.) Ben Cardin
at OSCE's 2004 Berlin Conference
A true Global Forum should be sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Simon Wiesenthal Center, with local Jewish communities and national governments, including Israel. Multilateral organizations, especially the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Organization of American States (OAS), ought to facilitate. 

Politicians should attend and deliver opening remarks, but only bonafide and relevant experts should present. This means people with credentials in research and polling, media, law enforcement, education, and human rights training. The role of community leaders and lobbyists should be to get people in the room, respond to the presentations with real-life concerns, and help implement the best practices which emerge from the proceedings.

When it comes to anti-Semitism, Israel hardly has all the answers, and it carries a clear conflict of interest -- its national interest. It's not a bad idea to have periodic assemblies devoted to ensuring effective hasbara ("explaining" or promoting Israel). But that's a far cry from the nuts and bolts of overcoming anti-Semitism. If Israel owns the "anti-Semitism" brand, then it will ultimately be about Israel and hasbara, not about combating anti-Semitism on the ground. And in our real world, that makes it far less appealing to the very governments we need on board. We can't fight anti-Semitism and defend the State of Israel in the same place at the same time, and expect to succeed in both, or perhaps either one.

1 comment:

  1. Unless I'm missing some obvious element, it seems to me that, yes, Israel's foreign ministry would make a good, if not ideal, sponsor for a forum on global anti-Semitism. Of course, the ministry would need to keep the focus on anti-Semitism, rather than national and diplomatic distractions.

    While the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Simon Wiesenthal Center would also make good sponsors, they are based in the U.S. The Israeli government, on the other hand, officially engages governments and organizations around the world. Plus, Israel is the de facto, if not official, center of world Judaism and Zionism.