Pioneering move to fight race hate

Experts from around the world hammer out groundbreaking document aiming to clamp down on antisemitism worldwide

By Leon Symons, February 19, 2009
Natan Sharansky: former Israel deputy prime minister

Natan Sharansky: former Israel deputy prime minister

A landmark document designed to combat antisemitism in all parts of the world has been produced at the end of a unique conference.

The first London Conference on Antisemitism brought together 125 parliamentarians from 40 countries, alongside 80 experts in the field.

They spent two days closeted together — the week after the Community Security Trust confirmed that January was the worst month ever in Britain for antisemitic incidents, in the wake of Israel’s action in Gaza.

As Professor Irwin Cotler, former Justice Minister of Canada and a prime mover behind the conference, put it: “It’s one thing to get them all here. It’s another to get them to agree on a document like this: it is historic.” The London Declaration, as it is called, contains 35 resolutions which aim to stamp on modern antisemitism.

The Declaration calls on parliamentarians to speak out against antisemitism wherever they are and urges action from the UN.

It sends an unequivocal message to those who manipulated the Durban conference on racism in 2001 into a hate-fest against Israel and puts out the same signal to those attending the event in April: “Never again.”

There is a similar message to Iran, which has called for genocide against Israel. Professor Cotler said: “Iran is not mentioned by name but that is the country to which this resolution refers.

“There is no question that Iran has broken the genocide convention by threatening such action against Israel. But the UN has to do something about it and bring Iran to book because it clearly breaks the convention.”

Another resolution calls for governments to take “appropriate and necessary action to prevent the broadcast of explicitly antisemitic programmes on satellite television channels” and to pressurise host nations and broadcasters to halt such transmissions.

Again, this is a clear swipe at Iran’s state-backed Press TV, some of whose programming has come in for harsh criticism.

The conference says that teaching the Holocaust should be on the national school curriculum, along with racism, antisemitism and discrimination.

Delegates also called for the training of police, prosecutors and judges under guidelines established by the Office for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The internet drew special attention, with a call for the establishment of a special task force of internet specialists to create a way to measure antisemitism on the web.

Professor Cotler said: “This is the most important document that has come out on the question of antisemitism from any forum.

“This is a landmark document, not only in the manner in which it speaks to the contemporary manifestations of antisemitism — state-sponsored, genocidal, boycott — but in its plan of action for governments, parliamentarians and civil society.

“Moreover, it could be applied to other forms of race hatred. This document is not just for Jews. There are fundamental principles involved that can be applied to any form of race hate.”

Stephen Rubin, who has chaired the lay side of the steering committee behind the conference, paid tribute to John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism, as “the driving force behind this conference”. David Harris of the American Joint Committee commented: “I am impressed by the people who were here and the sense of urgency has been quite striking.

“I’ve been to many conferences where there’s an underlying sense of ‘business as usual’ or ‘what’s new’. Here, there was the feeling that antisemitism has grown to new heights, and presents a clear and present danger that needed to be tackled in a clear way. The real test for us will be the aftermath. As good as this has been, what will determine its ultimate value will be what results from it.”

Community cohesion minister Sadiq Khan welcomed the London Declaration, saying that “it should be used as a floor rather than a ceiling, and shows us that we should all strive to do more.

“I am really pleased that there have been practical, constructive proposals coming out of the conference. After talking to some of the parliamentarians about the situation in other countries, we in the UK can be pretty proud that we are light years ahead of some of them in combating antisemitism. I had not quite understood how bad it is in other parts of the world, including some parts of Europe where they should have tackled this already.

“The point about the majority of delegates being non-Jews is very important. We need to understand the psychological trauma that the Jewish community goes through when antisemitism rises and this demonstrates the solidarity of the non-Jewish community with the Jewish community.”

The genesis of the London Conference was the Global Forum on Antisemitism in Israel a year ago.

MP John Mann had attended the Israel conference twice. Two things, according to Community Security Trust chief executive Richard Benson, concerned him:

“He was almost the only non-Jew present and the ‘take-aways’ — decisions and recommendations to be taken away from the conference to follow through — were very limited. He was very concerned about what he was getting from this.”

The experience made Mr Mann determined to change the dynamic surrounding such events. He contacted Professor Cotler and between them they formed the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA), inviting US Congressman Chris Smith to join them.

The London delegates dealt with five themes: internet hate, policing and prosecution, the new antisemitism, antisemitism in the international arena and antisemitic discourse.

Mr Benson said: “The chairs of the various workshops will be charged with taking forward the recommendations of the conference.

“The CST will monitor their progress and they will report back, because the intention is to make this an annual event.”

Last updated: 1:10pm, March 10 2009