Excerpted from remarks to the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism
It is of special importance that an international forum on antisemitism was hosted this week in Malmö, a modern coastal city in southern Sweden with an unfortunately lengthy history of contemporary antisemitism.
Just a few days ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, who lives right there in Malmö, as he recounted just a few of the over 100 instances of bullying, intimidation, and violence he has faced as a Jew in Sweden. I hoped that this forum would provide practical strategies to eliminate the persecution and prejudice he feels in the city and country he calls home, as well as to all Jews who feel the brunt of persecution and discrimination across the globe.
I am proud that nearly all 53 member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – 51 of 53 – have adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. They have joined the ever-expanding community of nations, non-profits, universities, cities, towns, and sports teams that recognize the need to define antisemitism in order to better combat it.
As this international consensus continues to spread, it is imperative that we examine how to implement the IHRA definition on the local and national levels. This Working Definition needs to be a tool for prosecutors examining hate crimes, for educators teaching about bias, and for social media moderators tasked with removing hateful content. Earlier this year, the European Commission produced a stellar guide: the EU Handbook for the practical use of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. Some countries have already begun to implement these recommendations, and we hope that many others will use this guidance as a roadmap for improved regulations and updated curricula. By embedding the principles of the IHRA definition within all aspects of society, we emphasize that this definition is not supposed to grow dusty on a shelf, but constantly works to combat antisemitism.
The consensus around this definition comes at a time when violence against Jews has not only spiked but mutated and spread.
We were all horrified by the destructive display of antisemitism in the United States this spring. Using the excuse of an engagement between Hamas terrorists and the IDF, assailants targeted Jews with violence and vandalized synagogues across the country. Although Jewish communities in Europe have faced such hatred before, including right here in Malmö, the American community must now reckon with a new reality of antisemitic attacks.
As we confronted these daily reports of violence, we were stunned by the conspicuous silence of many organizations purportedly devoted to social justice and minority rights. Any organization that believes that “Jews don’t count,” is one that must seriously reconsider its priorities and values. Ignoring the repeated targeting of our community in service of a prevailing narrative labelling Jews as wealthy, powerful, white oppressors only fuels antisemitic mendacities.
As nations and NGOs build partnerships across civil society to aid minority communities and combat bigotry, we must insist that the persecution of Jews be recognized for what it is – an act of hate.