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The Herzog and Boris Mints Institute Webinar on Anti-Semitism

A recap of the Herzog – Boris Mints Institute Webinar

Hon. Isaac Herzog, President of Israel

Modern social media is where disseminating information occurs at high speed, leaving no space for the actual discussion. There is a fine line between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric. One thing is certain: Jewish persecution’s long history is not to be reduced to an Instagram post. Taking all the nuances into account and carefully engaging the topics is crucial towards building a place of understanding. Israel is a Jewish, democratic state, and it will never accept hatred under the disguise of criticism. Forty-six years old Chaim Herzog tore the pages of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, which declared Zionism a form of racism. To question the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is to deny what every other ethnic group has. Quoting Jean-Paul Sartre: anti-Semitism is not an opinion but rather a subjective tendency, hatred, and destruction. Antisemitism has no part in liberal democracies. The first step towards progress is espousing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. Media, parliament, law enforcement, and academia – all have an important mission: identify the sources of hatred, isolate and reject them through intelligent, respectful dialogue.

Prof. Itai Sened, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Head of the Boris Mints Institute, TAU

There is a need to connect and analyze the anti-Semitism with the fine line of a legitimate critique. The president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, represents the ability to tell the fine line and has very much articulated it and performed it throughout his life. Such collaboration of Chaim Herzog Institute for Communication, Society and Politics and BMI is crucial towards opening a place up for discussion. It was made possible with the help of Ms. Andrea Wine. We need to enable true dialogue based on facts and challenge the look at the debate that matters, and this is why this event opens up a series of three more that will occur during the coming year.

Ms. Andrea Wine, Member of the Board of Governors of Tel-Aviv University

As a member of the Board of Governors of Tel-Aviv University, Ms. Wine believes that it is crucial to keep the dialogue relating to Israel’s political and social challenges. Israel is a controversial member of the United Nations. In recent years – discussion of such issues became both confused and confusing. There is an emerging issue of human rights, freedom of speech, and such debate is often punctuated in the media. However, what it does, in reality, is provoking rather than informing. The populist socio-political cocktail has devastating consequences for global peace. Thus, there is a need for thorough research and analysis. The media and politics in Europe have previously shown how destructive populism can lead to global catastrophes. Much of the world has been expanding rights in recent decades; however, parallel to that, there is growing intolerance, anti-Semitism, and constant blame of Jews and Israel for everything that is wrong.

Dr. Sandrine Boudana, Head of the Herzog Institute, TAU

This is the first in the series of four webinars on topics of great importance to society. The challenge of anti-Semitism has always been crucial. In the past years and weeks, many conferences have been conducted on the topic. Yet, anti-Semitism keeps coming up in new forms. Thus, the academic world has to try to think of new ways for its reduction. Citizens of Israel and positions on Zionism are utilized as a gateway for anti-Semitic violence. This phenomenon has grown globally. The media during the second intifada was criticized for adding oil to the fire; however, during recent escalations, it has been continuously doing just that. This webinar is focusing on Europe and its experience with the recent rise of antisemitism. There is much to learn from the European cases. anti-Semitism needs to be defined in a broader sense with agreeable criteria to fight it through encouraging dialogue and without infringing free speech. 

Prof. Dina Porat, Former Head of the Kantor Center, Tel-Aviv University

What are the criteria for distinguishing the acceptable criticism of Israel from Anti-Semitic speech?

It is possible to pinpoint the new phase of anti-Semitism, which started in the early 2000s, following the Durban conferences, which became a New Heaven for anti-Semitism. In turn, it started a period of more violence, more radical Muslims. The propaganda came more from the extreme right hand since the conference emphasized radical Islamism. Through the Durban conference – the fine line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has been blurred, and more and more anti-Zionist critique becomes anti-Semitic by motive and symbols. Few years after the notorious conference, a need to define anti-Semitism was recognized. In a joint effort to define it in 2005, the IHRA definition was created. However, what has not changed is the image of the Jew. The modus operandi of anti-Semitism has changed after Durban. We should take into account that this is not classic anti-Semitism. One stage of the phenomenon does not push the previous away; they pile on top of each other. The image of the Jew is crystallized since the last century. Europe is more successful in bringing anti-Semitic perpetrators to justice due to its legal system, a direct effect of WWII. One has to understand that freedom of speech is not freedom of incitement. Caricatures – proof of the state being Jewish attributed the characteristics and blood libels. Ignorance is rampant, and while you can engage people in dialogue, they do not know the situation. The media is not responsible for the content, rather allowing the comments to appear with no punishment. There have been some advancements in this stage from a legal standpoint. Antisemitism is not something that is governmentally related and is not the root cause. The roots of the problem are in European challenges themselves. One has to understand that the IHRA definition is not legally binding and is a mere recommendation.

Prof. Alan Johnson, British political theorist, and activist, Research fellow at the Britain and Israel Communications and Research Centre

What is the situation in European countries? The UK as an example

Focusing on what has worked in convincing people what is the fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The first step towards that is recognizing that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the West Bank policies, the attitude towards the Arab minority, and the inequalities they face. The second step introduces the audience to the history of anti-Semitism, using examples to fix the understanding, debunking conspiracy theories, drawing out what is expected in anti-Semitism through the stereotypically composed image. What matters here the most is not the discourse but rather the objective impact of various types of anti-Semitism and its combination with anti-Zionism, with hybrid forms emerging. There needs to be a display of the direct effects that antisemitism has on society: Israel is not a colonial state, and anti-Semitism only harms the peace process. The modern paradigm of rewinding the winds of justice as a moral duty can be harmful. Rationalizing the conflict is not an option, and neither is fusing a campaign to denounce Israel with a global fight against anti-racism. There is a tremendous amount of ignorance around, and in reality – what matters are consequences and not intentions. How does antisemitism work in the real world? There is a solidification through the culture to be transported and a global campaign of anathema and demonization; hence, we have to keep engaging as intellectuals to work through the issues. 

Viviane Teitelbaum, Member of the Belgium Parliament

The role of European politics and policies: Can we still hope for efficient measures?

Can politics play a role in fighting public discourse without fighting? There is a disturbingly worsening situation regarding anti-Semitism. The modern one starts appearing more and more on the left. However, the Arab and Muslim forms of anti-Semitism have started on the right. The latest attacks have only supported and encouraged more violence, and the media has no perspective on the situation yet tricks the population in one message. Another dimension to this that comes from the Belgian example is that Holocaust education is missing in most schools. There is no political way to fight anti-Semitism, not even a will to recognize that it needs to be explicitly tackled without overstepping free speech. There is great importance in fighting rising antisemitism that lies on politicians, governments, and academia. Institutions are fighting racism from the grassroots level. The left will not condemn anti-Semitism, as it is no longer politically acceptable, and with the rising intersectionality, the situation is getting even worse. The universal declaration of Human Rights – defines that everyone has a right to free speech. However, anti-Semitism is not an opinion; it is a crime. There is no first amendment in Europe, so there is no reason to accept hate speech. From the legislative standpoint, there are only laws regarding holocaust denial and nothing relating to anti-Semitism; the fight against anti-Semitism does not infringe on that. One has to understand that punishing a crime is different from banning free speech. The media has been carefully misinforming the world about the state of Israel. The role of credentials and education are crucial to tackling this. It is not dependent on the Israeli government, whether old or new. The Jews are the nation, and there is not anything that Israel as a state can do to satisfy the people who are anti-Semitic.

Marc Neurgoschel, Journalist and researcher

The role of the media: part of the problem and/or part of the solution?

Antisemitism 2.0 is fed by rumors and fake news. Social media is a fairly recent phenomenon that certainly contributed to the rise of antisemitism. People are not being held accountable. However, it needs to be underlined that contemporary antisemitism is based on the same stereotypes of the Jews that existed for centuries. Thus, the world cannot look at social media as another reality; it is the same world. Any other cultural domain is impacted, including anti-Semitism, and the challenges of hate crimes and radicalization are directly related. The media is certainly part of the problem, but it can help us better understand how to fight anti-Semitism. anti-Semitism derives its forms from a relatively stable set of stereotypes. What changes are the social realities interpreted through anti-Semitism that is blamed on Jews, Zionists, and Israel? Jews were accused of killing God, and Zionism is equated to racism.

People see what changes: the social reality and the interpretations that arise through said changes. Social media communication is based on the same traditional stereotypes. Even if we look at the references of the Middle East are the basis for stereotypes of antisemitism. Israel-related anti-Semitism is not related to the Middle Eastern conflict. There is no fine line between Israel-related anti-Semitism. Tools such as the IHRA are essential. Identification of Zionism with racism on the far-left; far-right does so with Zionism and illegal migration. While there are disagreements with assumptions based on semiotics, it is intended to move away from personal discussions and focus on the code of anti-Semitism. 

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