For once the UN calls out global anti-Semitism


What will the Special Rapporteur’s report mean for the UN and other international bodies (

Jewish year 5779 went out on a high note at the United Nations, where special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief Ahmed Shaheed released the advance copy of his report on global anti-Semitism. The organization that once equated Zionism with racism, published the ugly Goldstone report, and remains home to the ironically named Human Rights Council (where Israel is regularly condemned, while nations like Venezuela are praised) appears to be shifting in a new, more hopeful direction.

This new report is not exhaustive, likely due at least in part to space constraints. It also feels most forceful and detailed when describing anti-Semitism from the right, which may reflect the nature of available research (this report draws on existing surveys of trends in anti-Semitism). However, it is also informed by interviews with Jewish individuals and organizations, as well as subject area experts, in nine nations. (Interestingly, only 19 countries responded to the special rapporteur’s own survey on this subject.)

Shaheed describes anti-Semitism as a human rights issue, noting “the pernicious impediment antisemitism poses to the human rights of not just Jewish individuals but to the rights of all in societies in which this insidious hatred is unaddressed.”

He acknowledges that contemporary anti-Semitism is a problem not only among neo-Nazis but also radical Islamists and the political Left. He critiques the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. The special rapporteur notes the problem of underreporting. Shaheed expresses “alarm” at rising global anti-Semitism and cites Secretary General Antonio Guterres saying “attempts to delegitimize the right of Israel to exist, including calls for its destruction” are anti-Semitism. He recommends wider adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism, and suggests the U.N. secretary general appoint a senior official to liaise with world Jewry and monitor anti-Semitism, including the U.N.’s response to it. These are reasons to cheer.

As Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told me, “Anti-Semitism is a human problem. We welcome this report’s conclusion that if left unchecked, anti-Semitism poses a risk not just for Jewish people but for everyone.”

While this report is undoubtedly a positive development, some room remains for improvement, especially in two key areas. The first is the discussion of BDS.

The report considers both sides of a heated argument from arm’s length. Stylistically speaking, more active language would improve this section. Substantively speaking, it raises questions that should be answered. (The special rapporteur won’t answer media questions until after formally presenting the report on Oct. 17.) For example, why does the special rapporteur uncritically quote the Palestinian BDS National Committee, which apparently told him they are “inspired by the South African anti-apartheid and U.S. civil rights movements” rather than Israel’s marginalization and eventual destruction?

The lengthy paragraph takes pains to recognize the value and legality of boycotts, especially non-violent boycotts, while condemning “expression which draws upon antisemitic tropes or stereotypes, rejects the right of Israel to exist, or advocates discrimination against Jewish individuals because of their religion.” However, BDS fits squarely in that latter category, as the Democratic House’s recent anti-BDS resolution and Natan Sharansky’s 3D test “to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism” can both substantiate.

As it stands, the paragraph reads like a gentle warning to BDS supporters to stay on the right side of the line being drawn.

The second important issue relates to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which the special rapporteur notes “has been adopted by a number of countries and agencies” (including the United States). In the recommendations section, “the special rapporteur notes that criticism of the Government of Israel is not per se antisemitic, as stated in the Working Definition, unless it is accompanied by manifestations of hatred towards Jews in general, or expressions that build on traditional antisemitic stereotypes.”

No one disagrees that criticism of Israel’s government is not inherently anti-Semitic, especially if the critic is holding Israel to the same standards as every other nation. However, this passage reads like two-factor authentication, which is not how I have ever read the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. Context definitely matters, but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone suggest that a comment only crosses into anti-Semitism if the speaker has also made ugly comments about globalists or the like.

Finally, there is the crucial matter of next steps. Now that this report exists, what changes should we expect to see from U.N. member states, international organizations, and the U.N. itself? Will more countries start monitoring anti-Semitism and protecting their local Jewish populations? Will European countries reconsider outlawing kosher slaughter? Will the British Labour Party face increased pressure to extinguish its institutional anti-Semitism?

Will the European Court of Justice factor this report into its pending decision about the labeling of goods imported from Israel? Will the U.N. finally scrap their proposed blacklist of companies operating beyond Israel’s Green Line? Will the U.N. Human Rights Council be pressed to justify their standing agenda item on the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” (aka, the Israel agenda item)?

For those answers, stay tuned in 5780.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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