In the most recent webinar from the Australia/Israel &Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) Canadian law professor, formerly Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Irwin Cotler, and fellow prominent human rights advocate Dr Karen Mock spoke about “The infamous 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism and the Ongoing Challenge of Antisemitism”.
Dr Mock, who was Chair of the Canadian advisory committee in the lead-up to the Conference, discussed the way it changed the nature of how antisemitism impacts the international Jewish community. She realised at preparatory conferences that “antisemitism would be alive and well” at Durban, and recounted how in Durban, Jewish delegates suffered vitriol and attacks, grossly antisemitic publications and posters featuring Nazi-style vilification were plentiful, the NGO declaration was ultimately rejected in large part because of its vitriol against Israel, and Israel was the only country named in the government document.
Jewish delegates, she said, had been forced to hide their identities, and the Antisemitism Commission was stormed by anti-Israel activists and was the only one to have part of its final declaration rejected.
She concluded, “For me, the saddest part is what this did and the divisiveness in the anti-racism and human rights world, where Jews no longer felt safe and equal, and in partnership with our colleagues.”
Professor Cotler, who was also at Durban, described it as “truly Orwellian – a world conference against racism and hate turned into a conference of racism and hate against Israel and the Jewish people; a conference intended to promote and protect international human rights turned into a conference singling out one state and one people for selective opprobrium and indictment…”
He said it “emerged as the tipping point for the new antisemitism…masquerading as anti-racism and proceeding under the protective cover of human rights,” which included a global campaign against Israel as a racist, ethnic-cleansing, criminal and Apartheid state, and the rampant discrimination against it in international organisations.
The recent fighting between Israel and Gaza, he said, was a second tipping point, with a growth in “demonological antisemitism” underpinned by five dynamics – mainstreaming of antisemitism in political culture, globalisation of antisemitism, marginalisation of antisemitism in the fight against racism, the laundering of antisemitism under the cover of anti-racism, and the revival of classic poison-the-well-style antisemitic tropes in relation to COVID.
His ten-point plan to combat antisemitism includes Holocaust education; combatting Holocaust denial and distortion; unmasking Durban; enhancing the adoption and implementation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism; combatting the alarming rise in antisemitic hate crimes and the rise of hate on social media, including through law enforcement; protecting Jewish institutions; zero tolerance for antisemitism in political parties; and an international constituency of conscience of political leaders, diplomats and scholars.
Cotler is an enthusiastic supporter of the IHRA definition, noting that it went from a first draft in 2002 to adoption only in 2016, after input from the European Council on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia. Therefore, he said, it is “not only the most authoritative, but representative definition that we have” and is “anchored in human rights law, anchored in inequality rights law,” and is “a blueprint for protecting human rights for protecting equality rights for protecting freedom of speech.”
In response to those who claim it shuts down free speech, including criticism of Israel, he says it’s the opposite, because it protects the speech of those marginalised and bullied, and “expressly says that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism and pro-Palestinian advocacy can be continued. The only thing is it sets forth red lines. When you do speak of Jews and Israelis as Nazis, that’s crossing the red line.”