European Union Takes Stronger Stance Against Antisemitism

With elections in the UK only days away and British Jewish citizens fleeing Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, Europe is increasingly calling for more action against antisemitism. Only 13% of British Jews will vote for labour in the June 8th election. After repeated antisemitic controversy within the Labour Party, Jewish communities in England and across Europe were shocked when the party did not expel former London Mayor Ken Livingston in April after he implied Hitler supported Zionism.

It could not come at a better time for the European Union to have passed a resolution this week against antisemitism. In a statement, the EU said, “the recent rise in antisemitism across the EU requires more and stronger action.” That action, said the EU, must focus especially on more effective prosecution and cross border cooperation; the appointment of national coordinators to combat antisemitism across the EU; the Holocaust should be taught in schools and leading politicians need to denounce antisemitic sentiment.

Most importantly, the EU resolution is encouraging member states to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to embrace its working definition of antisemitism. That definition touches upon traditional forms of antisemitism but also includes, “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity… antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity… expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.”

This view is consistent with the observation of the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who told officials from the Simon Wiesenthal Center last week that “denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.”┬áThe election this week of Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon to Vice President of the General Assembly, is certainly a positive sign and step for the UN in countering antisemitism and the denial of the Jewish state.

For Canada, a member of the IHRA and former chair of the organization, employing the EU’s recommendation to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is paramount. Organized antisemitism is increasing in Canada inspired by campus activity; bias about Israel in the media; rising white supremacism particularly in western Canada and hate from some Muslim communities. A video from a Toronto mosque calls for the death of all Jews and Christians – “Oh Alla Purify Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews!”

What’s more this week, it was revealed that a student at Ryerson University was initially disallowed an internship at two Jewish organizations as part of her practicum for social work. While the department and university retracted this measure, the Jewish student felt unaccommodated and went on to complete the practicum elsewhere. That anti-Jewish and antisemitic sentiment has penetrated into departments and bureaucracies of our universities and colleges is a clear demonstration that Canada must follow Sweden’s example and invest in confronting antisemitism to a greater degree.

Sweden recently expanded its Holocaust education programming to 156 million Krona to develop a new national program for Holocaust remembrance with the aim of combating antisemitism and racism. According to reports, the situation for Jewish communities in Sweden is so dire that many Jews are uncomfortable showing their “Jewishness” in public – this is happening in a free and democratic nation.

It is no wonder that in addition to the EU’s resolution this week, the European Commission took initiative to create a Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech. Together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, the Commission wants to stop the spread of hate content in Europe. Since its launch one year ago, the Commission found that on average 59% of cases, IT companies removed illegal hate speech – twice the level recorded six months earlier.

Canada’s position with respect to online hate remains precarious. In 2013, the Conservative government repealed Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act that permitted rights complaints to the federal Human Rights Commission for the “communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.” On the other hand, a recent case in British Columbia saw hate crime charges laid against a person promoting hate speech on a website. A clear and defined national code of conduct about online hate (in keeping with existing hate crime laws) would be a step forward for Canada.

In these lessons and actions taken by Europeans, Canada must take greater measures to document and record hate crime; prosecute those who preach and practice hate and strengthen our definition of antisemitism to conform more vividly according to international guidelines and standards. Canada has come a long way in recent years for its condemnation of antisemitism – but we cannot let our guard down – not now and not ever.

About the Author
Avi Benlolo is the President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), a Jewish non-profit human rights organization. Avi is a prominent Canadian human rights activist dedicated to promoting tolerance, freedom, democracy and human rights.
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