On the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023, The Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University published its annual report entitled ‘For a Righteous Cause’, focusing on initiatives of governments and citizens around the world to preserve Jewish heritage, teach about the Holocaust, and combat antisemitism and racism in general. The report aims to express appreciation for inspiring initiatives, encourage other similar activities, and propose ways for further improvement.
The findings presented in the Report indicate that recognizing the Holocaust and teaching lessons derived from it have recently expanded, even in countries where Holocaust education was uncommon, including in Africa and the Arab World. Alongside this positive trend, many educational, social, and legal initiatives for combating Holocaust denial and antisemitism have been advanced in Western Europe, America, and Australia, indicating broad recognition of the problem and its severity.
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Prof. Uriya Shavit, Head of the Center: “Regretfully, it must be admitted that despite global support for the fight against antisemitism, being a Jew has become less safe almost everywhere in the world. But giving up the struggle is not the solution. We must learn systematically, in a comparative manner, what has been done and what can be improved.”
The Report was authored by eight experts from different disciplines, including: Dr. Carl Yonker, Project Manager and Senior Researcher at the Center (Around the World: Government Initiatives, Legal Developments; the Example of Cyprus); the Center’s Founder, Prof. Dina Porat (Holocaust Remembrance in Africa); Dr. Ofir Winter (The Arab World); Adv. Talia Naamat (Around the World: Government Initiatives, Legal Developments); and researcher Fabian Spengler (Football: The Test Case of Borussia Dortmund in Germany).
The Report’s findings indicate that recognition and teaching of the Holocaust have spread – even to countries where it was previously uncommon.
The Report includes an extensive discussion about Cyprus, presenting it as a model to be emulated: even though no antisemitic incidents have been recorded in the country in recent years, its government has emphasized teaching the history of the Holocaust and the lessons derived from it in the education system, in law enforcement organizations, and in sports clubs. This approach is based on a proactive view, an overall commitment to combating racism and xenophobia, and an understanding that learning about the Holocaust and fighting antisemitism is critical for a society that aims to strengthen its democratic and liberal values.
The Report analyzes the emerging interest in Jewish history and the Holocaust in several African countries, which see a resemblance between the tragedies experienced by the Jewish people and crimes against humanity perpetrated on the African continent. This sentiment is expressed, for example, in the Genocide Memorial National Museum in Rwanda, which commemorates the genocide of the country’s Tutsi minority that occurred four decades after the Holocaust while the world looked on in silence.
According to the Report, an encouraging trend was observed this year in several Arab countries, with rising recognition of the history of antisemitism and the crimes of the Nazis. For example, in January 2022, Egypt took part in a session of the UN General Assembly that adopted a resolution condemning Holocaust denial. The Egyptian Ambassador to the UN conveyed the Arab consensus on the resolution.
This positive trend reflects a significant turnaround in Arab discourse on Jewish history. This was displayed in quite a few new initiatives, some in the literary sphere, promoting the preservation of Jewish heritage in several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco. These projects are described extensively in the Report.
Significant positive developments were also observed in formerly Communist countries. In December 2021, the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania launched the project “Stories from the Holocaust – Local Histories.” This initiative aimed to enhance the knowledge of Romanians about the history of their communities from the perspective of Jews and Roma persecuted during the Holocaust. In 2022 the project included street exhibitions featuring the life stories of Jews and Roma and their tribulations during this dark period.
The Report documents many initiatives introduced over the past year in the Western World for preserving Jewish heritage, teaching about the Holocaust, and combating antisemitism. The initiatives indicate a growing awareness of the dangers posed by antisemitic propaganda on the internet, as well as increasing recognition of the importance of educating younger generations about the Holocaust.
In October 2022, the European Commission marked the first anniversary of the “European Union Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030)”. Actions during the first year included: combating antisemitism on the internet; the signing of the Vienna Declaration by 11 EU member states and several international organizations which committed to developing a common, standard methodology for recording antisemitic incidents; and launching a project to protect Jewish cemeteries in Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Following discussions held in 2022, the European Parliament and European Commission are expected to pass the Digital Services Act, requiring online platforms to remove hate speech, provide information on their use of algorithms, and have clear rules to address complaints related to hate speech.
In January 2022, the Austrian Parliament was presented with the first annual implementation report detailing actions to advance the country’s National Strategy to prevent and combat all forms of antisemitism. Actions included: safeguarding Jewish life in the country and ensuring the Jewish community’s future; adoption of the IHRA Working Definition by Austria’s top football league, the Bundesliga; holding seminars on antisemitism for police officers; and initiating a declaration against antisemitism at the UN Human Rights Council.
In March 2022, the United States Senate appointed the country’s first special ambassador for monitoring and combating antisemitism, historian Prof. Deborah Lipstadt. In the summer, Lipstadt traveled to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In March, President Biden signed the 2022 federal government funding package of US$2M to implement the Never Again Education Act. These funds will be used for training teachers by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as special activities for monitoring and combating global antisemitism. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed three bills to ensure that schools in the state provide high-quality Holocaust education, that museums acknowledge art stolen by the Nazi regime, and that Holocaust survivors receive their reparation payments from Germany in full. Several states in the US, including New York, Iowa, New Mexico, and Arizona, adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
In April, Canada introduced a federal bill that defines punishments for denying, condoning, or downplaying the Holocaust, and earmarks $70M for funding Jewish community initiatives. The city of Toronto launched a new public education campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism under the title “Toronto for All”. The campaign calls upon local citizens to become educated about the Jewish community and antisemitism, create inclusive spaces, and make their voices heard when they witness acts of bias and hate – offering support to victims, and reporting hate crimes to the authorities. The Canadian Provinces British Columbia and Alberta adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
In July, the Organization of American States (OAS), in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), co-published a Spanish-language handbook entitled “Handbook for the Practical Use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism”. Guatemala and Colombia adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, joining the United States, Canada, and Argentina in the pledge to confront antisemitism throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Several positive initiatives were also seen in Australia. New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Victoria and NSW passed legislation banning public displays of Nazi symbols, specifically the swastika, with a maximum punishment of a year in jail and/or a substantial fine. Queensland and Tasmania also introduced legislation to ban Nazi symbols.