Albania becomes first Muslim country to adopt anti-Semitism definition

IHRA wording gets unanimous okay from Tirana days ahead of inaugural Balkans Forum on anti-Semitism led by Albania’s parliament, seeking to fight against anti-Jewish prejudice

Israeli Ambassador in Albania Noah Gal Gendler speaks during the inauguration of a Holocaust memorial in Tirana, on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Xhulio Hajdari /Tirana City Hall via AP)
Israeli Ambassador in Albania Noah Gal Gendler speaks during the inauguration of a Holocaust memorial in Tirana, on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Xhulio Hajdari /Tirana City Hall via AP)

Albania formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism Thursday, making it the first Muslim-majority country to accept the formulation and promise to fight anti-Jewish prejudice.

The IHRA definition has been adopted by many Western countries, though some have objected to its inclusion of some forms of criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

Robert Singer, a veteran Jewish organizational leader and former Israeli government official, was quoted in a statement released by the Albanian Parliament as expressing hope that more Muslim nations will follow in Albania’s footsteps.

The measure to adopt the definition was proposed by Socialist Party MP Taulant Balla. It was accepted unanimously.

Albania’s vote comes days before the inaugural Balkans Forum on Anti-Semitism, led by the Albanian parliament in collaboration with the Combat anti-Semitism Movement (CAM) and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which according to a CAM press release is meant to create a “united front for Balkans countries to work together against anti-Semitism.”

According to the press release, participants of the forum will include Albania’s Prime Minister, the Speakers of the Albanian, Kosovo and North Macedonian parliaments, along with officials from the UN, United States, United Kingdom, and Israel.

Albanian Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruci welcomed the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Citing Albania’s history of protecting Jews during the Holocaust, he said that his nation had a reason to be proud because “Albania is the only country in Europe where all Jews were taken under protection and rescued during World War II. Our homeland, Albania, in difficult times has served as a substitute soil for Jews.”

Nazi German forces occupied Albania from September 1943 until November 1944, when they were pushed out by local communist partisans. However, Albania boasts that it was the only country where no Jews were killed or were handed over to the Nazis.

Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers outside the mosque of Kokonozi in Tirana, Albania, Sunday, May 24, 2020. (AP/Gent Onuzi)

The country’s Jewish population rose from 200 before World War II to more than 3,000 by its end as Albanians protected their Jewish friends, and helped other Jews who fled from Germany and Austria by either smuggling them abroad or hiding them at home.

Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog congratulated the Albanian parliament.

“The adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is the most important and effective tool currently in place in the international arena to take practical action against the scourge of anti-Semitism,” Herzog said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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