An Israeli think tank on Monday kicked off an initiative to make anti-Semitism an international crime by launching a convention it hopes will be adopted by many states across the globe. Not a single foreign diplomat attended the event, much to the dismay of the organizers.
All 160 diplomatic representations in Israel were invited to the launch of the “International Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Anti-Semitism,” held in a West Jerusalem hotel, but not one showed up.
“It makes me sad and depressed,” said Alan Baker, a former senior Israeli diplomat, who authored the convention.
“This is indicative of the problem that we have of the denial, of the refusal of the international community to acknowledge the fact that anti-Semitism always has been and continues to be a very serious issue,” he fumed. “I can only attribute it to exaggerated political correctness — that they don’t want to be seen to be giving any kind of encouragement or support to something that might be misinterpreted by the Arab states or whatever.”
The convention aims to criminalize anti-Semitism internationally, making it an offense for which perpetrators can be extradited and prosecuted like perpetrators of genocide, racism, piracy, hostage-taking, terror, and other transgressions that are recognized as international crimes.
“I ask myself, how come today, with all the known history of anti-Semitism and tragic results over the years, how come that until today, nobody has really done anything to turn into an international crime?” Baker said at the launch event.
Baker, who has been working on this project on behalf of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a right-leaning think tank, said he hopes Jewish communities across the globe will advocate for their governments to sign the convention.
“It’s a long way to go. We first of all have to persuade our own Jewish communities, Jewish leaders, Jewish organizations that this is a cause that has to be taken up now. It can’t be sidelined as it is year after year,” he said.
“It’s only natural that Israel would become the first country to sponsor this. But there are how many millions of Jews throughout the world, whether in Russia or the United States or in Europe,” Baker explained. “This is not Israel’s pet project. The Jewish communities of the world should be concerned about this. Anti-Semitism is something that’s happening in Europe and around the world.”
So far, not a single state has indicated that it is considering signing the convention, including Israel. Baker said he has consulted with Israeli academics and Jewish organizations such as B’nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
On Tuesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is opening the fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, a two-day event featuring many prominent experts on the topic as well as speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials.
Baker, who has not briefed the ministry on the details of his project, is scheduled to present his convention to one of 12 working groups that will meet and discuss various issues at the conference.
“The text of the convention has been distributed by the Foreign Ministry to all participants registered for the working groups,” said Akiva Tor, the head of the ministry World Jewish Affairs Bureau and co-organizers of the Global Forum. “We look forward to a productive and professional discussion on this initiative and others.”
Baker said discussing anti-Semitism is important, but at the end of the conference “everybody will go back home, as they do every year, happy that they made their statements,” but with very little concrete outcome. His convention, on the other hand, presents a “practical way of taking things forward that requires action,” he said.
The convention defines acts or manifestations of anti-Semitism as “[a]ny expression of hostility or demonstration of violence toward Jews individually, or as a group, a collectivity, or toward the Jewish People as a religious, ethnic, or racial group, or toward Jewish culture, religious practices, and property that can be attributed to the Jewish religion and/or ethnicity, including attacking, physically and in other ways, people or property — such as buildings, schools, places of worship, and cemeteries — because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.”
A person would be committing an offense under the convention if he or she causes or intended to cause “violence or terror” against Jewish targets or by denying the Holocaust.
The convention, which is in large parts based on previous conventions related to anti-Semitism, also defines the phenomenon as the application of “double standards vis-à-vis the State of Israel, by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” It also includes the “vilification of Israeli leaders, inter alia through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them and any such arbitrary and general demonization of Israel, without prejudice to valid, substantive criticism of Israel’s policy.”
In this context, there is a fine line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli policies, Baker acknowledged. “We can’t claim that every ‘legitimate criticism’ of Israel is anti-Semitism. And we shouldn’t.” Calling Israel an apartheid state, however, is a “false and untrue” and therefore “crosses a border,” he said.
Baker, a former legal adviser at the Foreign Ministry, is adamant that anti-Semitism requires its own convention since it does not compare to Islamophobia or other forms of discrimination.
“By its very nature, with anti-Semitism’s long, bitter, and never-ending history, and its propensity to constantly re-appear in modern forms and contexts, it cannot and should not be equated with, linked to, or treated as any other form of racial discrimination,” he wrote in the introduction to the convention. “It stands alone. It cannot and should not be relegated to any type of listing of forms of racial discrimination and xenophobia.”