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Anti-semitism

Taking Williamson’s lead, the UK can spearhead the global fight against antisemitism

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Following two weeks of unabated and frankly terrifying attacks on Jewish people, Jewish buildings and indeed Jewish identity in the UK, last week Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) offered hope. Rather than simply condemning the huge spike in Jew-hatred, Williamson has gone a step further than perhaps any other leader by identifying a key remedy – Addressing antisemitism head on in schools. If Williamson’s justified concerns are translated into action, it could signal the UK taking a leading role in the European and indeed the global fight against the world’s ‘oldest hatred’, writes Robert Singer.

Thankfully, leaders have made clear that there is no place in the UK for Jew-hatred. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan were among those across the political spectrum to unequivocally condemn the 600 per cent rise in antisemitic incidents, which have seen a rabbi physically assaulted, calls for “Jewish blood” and a sickening pledge to rape Jewish women.

Sadly, this worrying trend is far from confined to the UK. Time and again, in cities across the world, Jews have been targeted under the feeble pretense of criticizing Israel. In some countries, such as Germany and France, governments have taken short-term measures to alleviate the threat, banning demonstrations where necessary and using legislation to prosecute racists.

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Williamson though, is demonstrating a more nuanced, long-term approach. In a letter to headteachers and school leaders, he made clear that schools are not only expected to deal properly with an “atmosphere of intimidation” for Jewish students and teachers. Crucially, Williamson also said that schools also have a responsibility to educate in an impartial and balanced fashion, rejecting materials or organizations that “publicly reject Israel’s right to exist”. In other words, Williamson understands that the disease of antisemitism flourishes in an educational void. The antisemitic violence and chaos on Britain’s streets was born out of ignorance, a lack of knowledge which can be remedied in the classroom.

He is perhaps the first leader not only in the UK, but internationally, to recognize this and call for a revised educational approach to combat antisemitism. In over a decade of work at World ORT, one of the world’s largest educational networks operating in five continents, I have witnessed first-hand how quality, balanced education can change lives and indeed the world. While legislation and law-enforcement are the immediate tools to keep Jewish communities safe, only education can guarantee their future.

Therefore, Gavin Williamson and the government he represents must not lose momentum. The UK has always played a unique role in fighting Jew-hatred. The country proudly stood almost alone at one point in the fight against Nazism. British soldiers were among the first to eventually liberate the concentration camps and uncover the horrifying depths to which antisemitism can descend. Should Williamson’s words be turned into action, then the UK can again become a standard-bearer in the fight against antisemitism.

To this end, the following three-point action plan for UK education can provide an effective framework. Firstly, headteachers and school staff must be able to define antisemitism. They must recognize what it is they are guarding against. Time and again in recent weeks, naked antisemitism has been dressed up as anti-Zionism. It is crucial to be able to distinguish where criticism of Israel ends and antisemitism begins. Fortunately, the globally recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism makes clear that “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is antisemitic.

Secondly, headteachers and teaching staff must be equipped to identify how antisemitism manifests itself in the classroom, in the playground and among pupils on social media. They must also be given the tools to respond appropriately.

Thirdly, educating about contemporary antisemitism must become part of the school curriculum. While ongoing, impressive efforts in Holocaust education are crucial, young people must understand that antisemitism isn’t confined to history. As recent events have shown, it is very much alive and kicking. Quite rightly, hundreds of UK schools have adapted their curricula accordingly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Tragically, the time has come for schools to teach that Jewish rights are equal too.

Quite simply, Jewish communities should never have to live in fear. Like so many others, Jews in the UK and across Europe are worried. Action is needed now, which can not only alleviate immediate concerns, but which will make clear that antisemitism won’t rear its ugly head again in the future. Education is the key to making this happen. Turning Gavin Williamson’s sentiments into concrete educational action would be a powerful statement that the UK is prepared to lead Europe and the world in finally consigning the ‘oldest hatred’ to history.

Robert Singer is a Senior Advisor of the Combat Antisemitism Movement, chairman of the Board of Trustees of World ORT and former CEO of the World Jewish Congress.

Anti-semitism

Progressive discourse is ‘cancelling’ the fight against antisemitism

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The explosion of antisemitism across the world during the last two months has been hugely concerning for Jewish communities. The facts speak for themselves. Synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish property have been vandalized, while Jews have been verbally harassed and physically attacked across Europe and in the United States, with many more targeted online. In the UK, a 250% rise in antisemitic incidents was recently recorded. Similar spikes were documented in other European countries and in the United States, writes Brig. Gen. (Res) Sima Vaknin Gill.

The sheer intensity of antisemitic incidents has abated, but nobody should be lulled into a false sense of security. Far from it. In fact. progressive circles are in danger of accepting a pernicious ‘new normal’ in which the battle against Jew-hatred is being ‘cancelled.’ As a result, they are fanning the fire of antisemitism.   

There are many painful questions to be asked. Why did Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza, unlike any other conflict in the world, become a green light to intimidate and attack a minority community? Why are Jews and Jewish communities uniquely ascribed responsibility for actions in a decades-long, geo-political dispute thousands of miles away? Perhaps the most disheartening question of all, is why Jews were left feeling abandoned in their hour of need by the very progressives who preach tolerance and social justice?

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Part of the answer can be found in the dangerously simplistic binary world view which has gripped progressive circles. This lens sees only privileged and under privileged (based on race not wealth), oppressors and oppressed. In this context, Jews are unjustifiably viewed as white and privileged, while Israelis are automatically seen as wicked oppressors. Jews and Israel have found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the progressive fence, thanks to a manufactured and frankly antisemitic stereotype.

We are now witnessing the very worrying consequences of this deeply flawed group think. The last two months has seen not only an indifference to Jewish fears among progressives, but a hostility towards them. Too often, voicing concerns over antisemitism is treated as an affront, something of a threat to other minority groups.

At the end of May, chancellor of Rutgers University, Christopher J. Molloy, and provost, Francine Conway, issued a brief message expressing sadness and deep concern over “the sharp rise in hostile sentiments and anti-Semitic violence in the United States.” It also referenced the overall racial injustices in the United States, mentioning the murder of George Floyd and attacks on Asian American Pacific Islander citizens, Hindus, Muslims and others. Incredibly, just a day later, Molloy and Conway made an apology, saying “it is clear to us that the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members. We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused.”

Similarly in June, April Powers, a black Jewish woman and head of diversity and inclusion initiatives in SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) issued a simple and patently uncontroversial statement, saying “Jews have the right to life, safety and freedom from scapegoating and fear. Silence is often mistaken for acceptance and results in the perpetration of more hatred and violence against different types of people.” Lin Oliver, the organization’s executive director soon backtracked, saying “On behalf of SCBWI, I would like to apologize to everyone in the Palestinian community who felt unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized,” while Powers resigned over the ‘controversy’.

In a logic twisted beyond belief, to raise concerns over antisemitism, or to express sympathy for Jews facing intimidation and attack, is deemed offensive. We find ourselves in a progressive world turned on its head. Those concerned with equality and social justice should proudly demonstrate solidarity with any minority under threat. Increasingly, what they are doing is worse than simply ignoring antisemitism. They are censoring, ‘cancelling’ attempts to stand with Jews facing hatred and fearing for their safety.

Those who genuinely do care about the welfare of Jewish communities, who are appalled by the prevalence of antisemitism, are too often silenced or bullied into ‘fixing’ their ways. It amounts to a progressive ‘totalitarianism’ which censors the boundaries of acceptable thought. In a world of black and white, this outlook dictates that Jews and Israel must be placed on the dark side of history.

Unless progressives wake up to the dangers of such self-censorship, they will be facilitating a potent long-tail antisemitism. While paying lip service to the cause of equal rights, they are instead singling out one sole minority undeserving of solidarity and protection. In doing so, progressives are doing the work of the racists for them. They are leaving the door wide open to an antisemitism which they claim to abhor.   

Brig. Gen. (Res) Sima Vaknin Gill is the former Director of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, co-founder of Strategic Impact consultants and a founding member of the Combat Antisemitism Movement.

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Anti-semitism

European Jewish leader to seek meeting with Belgian Interior Minister over plan to remove army protection at Jewish institutions

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The European Jewish Association deplores that the decision was taken without consultation with Jewish communities and without a suitable alternative being proposed. EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin rails against decision, saying it makes ‘Zero sense’ and adding that in absence of providing alternative security arrangements, it leaves Jews “wide open with a target sign on our backs”. The Belgian planned move takes place as anti-semitism is increasing in Europe, not decreasing, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

The head of the Europen Jewish Association (EJA), a Brussels-based umbrella group representing Jewish communities across Europe, has written to Belgian Interior Minister, Annelies Verlinden, seeking an urgent meeting with her to discuss a government plan to remove army protection from Jewish buildings and institutions on 1 September. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who has learned "with great alarm" the plan to remove army protection through its partner organization the Forum of Jewish organizations in Antwerp and Belgian MP Michael Freilich, will ask the minister for the move to be reconsidered. He is calling for a urgent meeting "in order to find common ground and to try and mitigate the effects of this proposal".

The European Jewish Association deplores that the decision was taken without consultation with Jewish communities and without a suitable alternative being proposed. In Belgium the security threat is currently medium according to the metrics provided by governments own Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (CUTA). But for Jewish Communities, as well as the American and Israeli embassies, the threat remains “serious and probable”. Army presence at Jewish buildings has been in place since the terrorist attack against the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014 which left four people dead.

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In a statement, EJA Chairman Rabbi Margolin said: “The Belgian government has up until now been exemplary in its protection of Jewish Communities. In fact, we at the European Jewish Association have held up the Belgian example as one to be emulated by other member qtates. For this dedication to keeping us safe and secure we have always expressed our utmost gratitude and appreciation."

"Is it also because of this dedication that the decision to remove the army on 1 September makes Zero sense,’’ he added. "Unlike the US and Israeli embassies, Jewish communities do not have access to any State security apparatus," he noted. “It is alarming too that Jewish communities have not even been properly consulted about this move. Nor is the government presently proposing any alternatives. As of now, it leaves Jews wide open and with a target on our backs," deplored Rabbi Margolin. The Belgian planned move takes place as anti-semitism is increasing in Europe, not decreasing.

"Belgium, sadly is not immune to this. The pandemic, the recent Gaza operation and its fallout are worrying Jews enough as it is, without this even added to the equation. Worse, it sends a signal to other European countries to do likewise. I am urging the Belgian government to reconsider this decision or at the very least offer a solution in its stead,” said Rabbi Margolin.

MP Michael Freilich is reportedly proposing a legislation that would see a €3 million fund made available to Jewish communities to increase their security in light of the 1 September plans. It will be urging the government to preserve the same level of security as before. The text of the resolution is to be discussed and voted tomorrow (6 July) in the Parliament’s committee on internal affairs. The Interior Minister’s Office couldn’t be joined for a comment on the plan. Around 35,000 Jews live in Belgium, mainly in Brussels and Antwerp.

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Anti-semitism

Commissioner says the EU should condition its funding of the PA on removal of antisemitism and incitement to violence in textbooks

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Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi (pictured) declared that the European Union should consider conditioning funding to the Palestinian Authority on the removal of antisemitism and incitement to violence from its textbooks, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Varhelyi’s statement followed the publication last Friday of a long-awaited EU-commissioned report on Palestinian textbooks which show instances of antisemitism and incitement to violence. The study,  completed in February, includes dozens of examples of encouragement of violence and demonization of Israel and of Jews.

The EU commissioned the report in 2019 from the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research and kept it under wraps for four months following its completion. The EU directly funds the salaries of teachers and the writers of the textbooks, which encourage and glorify violence against Israelis and Jews, according to the report.

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The report is almost 200 pages long and examines 156 textbooks and 16 teachers’ guides. The texts are mostly from 2017-2019, but 18 are from 2020.

EU Commissioner for enlargement Varhelyi, whose portfolio covers all aid given to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA by the EU and whose department initially commissioned the independent review, tweeted: “Firm commitment to fight antisemitism and engage with Palestinian Authority and UNRWA to promote quality education for Palestinian children and ensure full adherence to UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence, non-violence in Palestinian textbooks.”

He added that the “conditionality of our financial assistance in the educational sector needs to be duly considered,” implying that the EU might condition the continuation of its funding of the Palestinian education sector to the removal of antisemitic and incitement to violence from school textbooks.

The Vice President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schnias, who has the fight against antisemitism in his portfolio, also commented the publication of the report by saying: “Hate and antisemitism have no place in classrooms or anywhere. Peace, tolerance and non-violence must be fully respected; they are non-negotiable.”

Last week, a cross-party group of 22 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, demanding that the aid to the PA be withheld over “preaching anti-Semitism, incitement, and the glorification of violence and terrorism… violating fundamental EU values and our declared goal to help advance peace and the two state solution.”

The signatories included senior parliamentarians in budgetary-related EU Parliament committees such as Monika Hohlmeier, Chair of the Budgetary Control Committee and Niclas Herbst, Vice Chairman of the Budgetary Affairs Committee, who said that “the secrecy of the EU Commission is counterproductive and incomprehensible.” He also called for a 5% reserve on EU funding to the PA and UNRWA, stating the withheld funds should be redirected towards NGOs that adhere to UNESCO standards until the PA removes all hate and incitement from its textbooks.
 ‘’We are extremely grateful to Commissioner Varhelyi for his integrity. Ultimately, his department gives aid to the Palestinian Authority’s education system and it commissioned the report on Palestinian textbooks. We commend him for his leadership, for cutting through the noise around this report and clearly stating that the EU cannot be a party to the funding of hate-teaching,’’ said Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, a research and policy institute that monitors and analyzes education in the world,which independently assessed the EU report.

”The Palestinian Authority must ensure the high standards in fostering a culture of peace and coexistence”

Asked by European Jewish Press about the conditionality of the EU financial aid to changes in the Palestinian education sector, EU spokesperson Ana Pisonero said during the Commission midday briefing : ‘’Let’s be clear that the EU doesn’t fund Palestinian textbooks. Neverthelessn, the EU has funded an independent study of Palestinian  textbooks against defined international benchmarks based on the UNESCO standards on peace, tolerance and non violence education. The aim of the study was to provide the EU with a critical,  comprehensive and objective basis for policy dialogue with the Palestinian Authority in the education sector and to promote quality education services including allegations of incitement.’’

She added: ‘’When it comes to the conclusions of the study, the analysis has revealed a  complex picture.The textbooks largely adhere to UNESCO standards and adopt the criteria that are prominent in international education discours, including a strong focus on human rights. They express a narrative of resistance within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they display an antagonism towards Israel.’’

The EU spokesperson also stated that ‘’the EU remains committed to supporting the PA in building the institutions of a future democratic, viable independent state that respects human rights and lives side by side with Israel in peace and security. This is the EU long standing position. promoting high quality education is particularly important in this context. The Palestinian Authority must ensure the high standards in fostering a culture of peace and coexistence, paving the way for a future where the conflict can be resolved through negotiations leading to a two-state solution.’’

‘’We reiterate our uniquevocal commitment to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority to promote full compliance of its education material with the UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence and non violence,’’ she said, adding that the EU ‘’will step up its engagement with the PA on the basis of the study with the aim to ensure that further curriculum reform addresses problematic issues in the shortest possible time frame and that the Palestinian Authority takes responsibility to screen textbooks not analyzed in the study. We have agreed to work with the PA to set out a specific roadmap for this work which must include a comprehensive system of policy dialogue, continued engagement and incentives with the express purpose of promoting, monitoring and facilitating change.’’ ‘’This roadmap must also establish an objective and credible process of screening and monitoring of education material for which the PA will be fully responsible and will show coherence with UNESCO standards.’’

The EU spokesperson ended her long response by saying that the European Union ‘’has absolutely no tolerance for incitement to hatred and violence as a mean to achieve political goals, and antisemitism in all its forms. This principles are non-negotiable for this Commission.’’

In a statement, the Israeli foreign ministry said: “The fact that EU assistance to the PA education system is used to produce antisemitic propaganda material that encourages hatred, violence and terrorism, instead of promoting a peaceful solution to the conflict, harms the prospect of coexistence and establishing good and encouraging neighborly relations.’’

‘’The European Commission must take the report seriously and take practical steps to stop European aid until the problems with the report are rectified, it said, adding that the EU can closely monitor where its funding is going,’’ it added.

Dozen examples of encouragement of violence in textbooks 

The report includes dozens of examples of encouragement of violence and demonization of Israel and of Jews.

The textbooks present “ambivalent – sometimes hostile – attitudes toward Jews and the characteristics they attribute to the Jewish people… Frequent use of negative attributions in relation to the Jewish people… suggest a conscious perpetuation of anti-Jewish prejudice, especially when embedded in the current political context.”

An exercise in one religious-studies textbook asks students to discuss the “repeated attempts by the Jews to kill the prophet” Muhammad and asks who are “other enemies of Islam.”

“It is not so much the sufferings of the Prophet or the actions of the companions that appear to be the focus of this teaching unit but, rather, the alleged perniciousness of the Jews,” the report said.

The report identifies “the creation of a connection between the stated deception of the ‘Jews’ in the early days of Islam and the insinuated behavior of Jews today,” calling it “extremely escalatory.”

One textbook ties Muhammad’s aunt, who clubbed a Jew to death, to a question about Palestinian women’s steadfastness in the face of “Jewish Zionistic occupation.”

One textbook promotes a conspiracy theory that Israel removed the original stones of ancient sites in Jerusalem and replaced them with ones bearing “Zionist drawings and shapes.”

The concept of “resistance” is a recurring theme in the textbooks studied, along with calls for the Palestinians to be liberated via a revolution. To clarify the concept, one textbook has a photo with the caption, “Palestinian revolutionaries,” featuring five masked men toting machine guns.

Glorification and praise of terrorists who attacked Israelis can be found not only in history or social-studies books, but also in science and math books, such as one that mentions a school named after the “shahid” (martyr) Abu Jihad, a leader of the First Intifada.

The report also confirms the removal of all peace agreements summits and proposals that were previously included in the Palestinian curriculum post-Oslo Accords have been removed including the “omission of the passage that speaks of beginning a new era of peaceful coexistence free of violence reflects the current situation between the two parties, which does not provide a roadmap to non-violence and peace acceptable to all sides involved.”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Shtayyeh responded to the report, rejecting its findings and stating that Palestinian textbooks accurately reflect Palestinian national aspirations and that they cannot be judged by European standards.

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