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David Matas

David Matas: Antisemitism and its younger brother anti-Zionism exist in virtually every country, whether there are Jewish communities in those countries are not.

by David Matas, posted Aug 1, 2013

[The following is the presentation made by human rights lawyer David Matas at the closing plenary of the Global Forum of  Antisemitism in Jerusalem May 30, 2013]

We have already heard ten different action plans, of each of the working groups.  For an overall action plan, I want to make two main points.  One is the need for the Global Forum.  The second is the need for action.

This is the seventh Global Forum and the fourth sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has had both symbolic and practical significance.

Symbolically it has meant that the Government of Israel has come to accept the need to combat antisemitism.  It was not always so.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, diagnosed antisemitism as a disease from which the Jews suffered because of their statelessness. He considered that antisemitism would be resolved "on a political basis" through the creation of Jewish state.  He predicted that, once a state was created for the Jewish people, the Jews would become like any other people.  They would have their quarrels with other nations.  But those quarrels would be no different from the quarrels nations then had with each other.  He argued in his pioneering 1896 pamphlet "The Jewish State" that the advent of the Jewish state "would put an end to antisemitism."

One, though far from the only, reason the Jewish state was created after the Holocaust was the acceptance of this very logic.   The hope was that, through the creation of a Jewish state, the Jewish people would become a nation like all others.

But, just the opposite has happened.  Instead of nationals of the Jewish state being treated like nationals of other states, the Jewish state has come to be treated like the Jewish people.  Israel has become the Jew amongst nations - outcast, defamed and demonized.

The realization of the Zionist dream has generated anti-Zionism.   Anti-Zionism has modernized and amplified traditional antisemitism.

I want to repeat here the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu we heard at the beginning of the conference:


          "There were two myths about antisemitism. The first was that after the Holocaust antisemitism would disappear. And the second was that with the creation of the Jewish state, antisemitism would disappear. That didn't happen. Neither one of them."


This statement is significant, not just for its content, but because it was made by the Prime Minister of Israel.

Centralizing the efforts of the Government of Israel within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is symbolic, because of the centrality and priority of the Ministry within the Government.  It is also practical because of the global reach of the Ministry.  The Ministry has officials around the world who can lead in the struggle against antisemitism in each country and at each institution where these officials find themselves.

The Government of Israel is, of course, chosen by the voters of Israel and reflects the priorities of these voters.  The Jewish community of Israel, of all the planet's Jewish communities, is least likely to experience antisemitism.

Yet, Israel suffers the consequences of anti-Zionism first and worst, through suicide bombers, indiscriminate rocket attacks and armed incursions.  War propaganda, hate indoctrination, and incitement to terrorism inevitably precede acts of war, hatred and terror.  It is unnecessary to persuade Israelis of the need for self defense.  The first line of Israeli self defense has to be the global combat against antisemitism. 

Stop antisemitism everywhere and there will be no more military or terrorist attacks against Israel.  Develop the best military self defense, intelligence and anti-terrorist capacities imaginable. Yet, as long as antisemitism continues, the attacks against the State of Israel will continue.

In the ten different action plans we heard, there were several overlapping themes, for instance about the need to combat hate on the internet, the importance of addressing anti-Zionism in universities, the significance of inter-religious dialogue, the worth of conveying accurate information or the value of using legal remedies.  One theme about which all the working groups agreed was the importance of the Global Forum itself, the need for it to continue, to have adequate funding.

Traditionally, the combat against antisemitism has been led by the non-governmental Jewish community outside of Israel.  The 2013 Global Forum is not just a statement by the Government of Israel about the need for the Government to combat global antisemitism.  It is also an acknowledgement by the global Jewish diaspora of the need for the Government of Israel to lead in this struggle. 

Antisemitism and its younger brother anti-Zionism exist in virtually every country, whether there are Jewish communities in those countries are not. The Government of Israel has institutional and territorial reach beyond the places where there are large active Jewish communities. 

Many of the remedies for the wrong of antisemitism are governmental.  The Government of Israel, as a Government, has an access to other governments that the non-governmental world does not have.

Many of institutions where anti-Zionism thrives are inter-governmental. Though Israel is marginalized in these institutions as part and parcel of this anti-Zionism, Israel still has, as a government, a more privileged access to these institutions than the Jewish diaspora community organizations do.

Israel internally has as vibrant a democracy with as loud a cacophony of voices and competing forces as the Jewish community abroad.  Yet, the Government of Israel internationally speaks with one voice, one unified authority. It can rally the diaspora forces under one umbrella, because it is not in competition with them.

Institutional rivalry of the Jewish organizations has the strength of providing a variety of approaches and voices.  It has the disadvantage of preventing any one organization from being accepted as the convenor of the rest.  The Government of Israel, as we can see from the attendance at this and other Global Forums, is a convenor acceptable at all.

Israel is attacked because of anti-Zionism.  In turn, the Jewish community world wide is attacked because of distortions of the reality of Israel into anti-Zionist mythology.  Jews are demonized world wide because of their actual or presumed support for a demonized Jewish state.  In the demythologizing of the Jewish state, the Government of Israel has a central role to play.

The Government of Israel cannot possibly replace the feet on the ground, the lived experience of the Jewish diaspora.  Yet, working together on our common predicament is bound to be more effective than just leaving the struggle to the diaspora alone.

So, that is the first general theme, the need for the Global Forum. The second general theme is the need for action.  I have been to all the Global Forums, all seven.  I used to say that these Forums had two basic themes - one was "oy vey".  The second was "oy veys mir".  Previous Global Forums were useful as meeting points, as opportunities to exchange information. Yet, they were essentially talk shops.

This Forum though has been different.  Michael Whine, who, like me, has attended all of these Forums through the years, said, while presenting the action plan of the Western Europe Working Group: "this Forum is effectively empowering Jewish community representatives more than any other I have been to".  Philip Carmel, presenting the action plan for the Working Group on the Continuance of Jewish law, called this "a tachlis based conference".

Here, at this Global Forum, working groups and action plans were central.  Panels of experts were peripheral.  Of the two days of the conference, the first was essentially filled with meetings of the Working Groups.  The second was essentially filled with reports to the plenary of plans of actions from the Working Groups.  This Global Forum was not just a place to learn; it was primarily a place to plan to do.

The action plans we have heard were not only recommendations addressed to other institutions. They were recommendations addressed to us, to our working groups, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Each of the working groups leaves this meeting with something to do, a lot to do.  This effort will not just be engaged within the working groups and within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also amongst the working groups.  Working group coordination was a common theme.

The Haggadah says that in each generation, the enemies of the Jewish people will rise up to smite us.  This statement is more than just a gloomy religious prophecy written millennia ago.  It has turned out to be an all too real fact.  Also real is that, despite these unending genocidal efforts, the Jewish community has survived.   

The realization that the creation of the State of Israel has not ended antisemitism, but rather has led to a new form of antisemitism, does not throw into question the existence of the State of Israel. Rather it reminds us that there is no one magic bullet for combating antisemitism. 

The creation of Israel has given us a powerful global tool to combat antisemitism. With this Global Forum we are beginning to use this new tool in a new way. As Professor Bauer said earlier today, we have a new nu.

Antisemitism is a shape shifting monster.  Its existence persists but its form constantly changes.   This Global Forum marks the beginning of an adapted effort to combat antisemitism, an adaptation to the form that antisemitism now takes.  We came in solidarity.  We leave with commitment.


David Matas is a Winnipeg lawyer, senior honorary counsel for B’nai Brith Canada and co-chair of the Working Group on Antisemitism on the Internet and the Media.


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