2020 achievements in the battle against antisemitism

By Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The number of antisemitic incidents worldwide increased in 2020, but the past year also saw some notable positive developments in the battle against this hatred. The most important resulted from Trump policies, including the stopping of American financing of the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA. The US also announced that it considers the anti-Israel BDS movement antisemitic. Another major development was the publication of the British Equality and Human Rights Commission report on antisemitism within the Labour Party.

While the number of antisemitic incidents worldwide increased in 2020, there were several positive developments in the fight against this hatred.

The decision this year by the European Court of Justice that the Flemish and Wallonian governments can only allow ritual slaughter of animals after stunning was a major antisemitic act. It also affects part of the Muslim population. When Adolf Hitler came to power, the Nazi government introduced a similar measure in Germany, as it fit their antisemitic policies.

Though the European court effectively backed up Hitler’s approach, it is possible that the judges were ignorant of the antisemitic character of their ruling.

antisemitism born of ignorance is one of the hatred’s many strains.

The court wrote that its judgment strikes a “fair balance” between animal welfare and religion. This is a lie. Jews who observe the laws of their religion are forbidden to eat animals that have been stunned before slaughter. There is thus no balance at all. The court’s decision should be seen as one more step in the more than 1,000-year antisemitic culture that permeates European societies, whether the judges were aware of the fact or not.

Yet 2020 also saw a number of positive developments in the battle against antisemitism. The most important of these result from policies initiated by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Its decision to stop American financing of the Palestinian Authority was a major step against antisemitism. No more U.S. government money would be made available to an organization that rewards the murderers of Jews.

The cessation of U.S. funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) falls into the same category. This U.N. agency finances hate literature against Israel and makes it available in Palestinian schools, among many other antisemitic acts. Any renewal of funding by the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to UNRWA, which it might falsely call “humanitarian aid,” would boil down to an act of antisemitism.

Within the broad framework of Trump administration policies, several other measures favorable to Israel had a positive effect in the battle against antisemitism. While visiting Israel in November 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S considers the anti-Israel BDS movement to be antisemitic. There is indeed ample documentation of the profound antisemitic motivation of the initiators and main promoters of BDS.

Another important issue that came up only marginally (there was no follow-up) occurred in the final days before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3. Sources inside the Trump government made it known that the State Department may declare three major human-rights organizations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam, antisemitic. That this is factually correct was not news to antisemitism experts, but to hear it expressed in U.S. government circles was a radical step forward.

These organizations can be described as practicing “do-gooder” antisemitism. The concept is simple: If an organization or person mainly undertakes actions perceived as meritorious, it is granted leeway to misbehave at the margins, even to an extreme degree. These three major NGOs and many others have used this latitude to disseminate antisemitic ideas about Israel.

“Do-gooder” NGOs frequently incite, malign and defame Israel, while remaining largely silent about the criminality and death culture that permeate Palestinian society and leadership.

Another major development in the battle against antisemitism was the publication of the report of the British Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on antisemitism within the Labour Party. This highly critical document was released at the end of October. The EHRC found that the office of Jeremy Corbyn, the previous chairman of the party, unlawfully “politically interfered” in almost two dozen cases of antisemitism.

Three leading British Jewish organizations, the Board of Deputies of British Jewry, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust, thereafter released a statement: “Jeremy Corbyn will rightly be blamed for what he has done to Jews and Labour, but the truth is more disturbing, as he was little more than a figurehead for old and new anti-Jewish attitudes. All of this was enabled by those who deliberately turned a blind eye.”

Corbyn reacted to the report by saying that the allegations of antisemitism were “dramatically overstated for political reasons,” at which point Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, suspended him from the party. Corbyn also lost the position of Labour whip, which means that he now sits as an independent parliamentarian in the House of Commons. (Less than three weeks later, the National Executive Committee reinstated Corbyn as a member of Labour, but the party’s current chairman, Keir Starmer, has said that Corbyn will not be returned to the Labour whip position.)

In the framework of the Abraham Accords, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco agreed on normalization with Israel. Bahrain and Israel also decided that they would jointly fight antisemitism. Bahrain became the first Arab country to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

The number of countries, cities and organizations that have accepted the IHRA definition of antisemitism increased in 2020. They include London and Berlin, a variety of universities, the great majority of English Premier League football teams and diverse civil-society organizations.

The year 2020 also saw countries and entities hire coordinators to guide their efforts to fight antisemitism. One important appointment was that of former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler as that country’s special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism. Cotler is a highly respected international human-rights lawyer with a lengthy background in the study of trends in antisemitism.

In Germany, where there were already a few such coordinators, new ones were appointed. A particularly important choice was that of political scientist Samuel Salzborn as antisemitism commissioner of Berlin. The Netherlands announced that it will appoint such a commissioner in 2021.

One might add to the above that the European Council, which groups together the heads of E.U. member states, issued a declaration against antisemitism. It has some merit, though it failed to address many relevant issues.

While the overall situation regarding antisemitism in the world continues to deteriorate, the bright spots of 2020 indicate that important achievements are being made in the battle against this ancient, widespread hatred.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a senior research associate at the BESA Center, a former chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and author of The War of a Million Cuts. Among the honors he has received was the 2019 International Lion of Judah Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism.

Photo: MP John Mann speaks at a protest against antiדemitism in his Labour Party / Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images