Taking a Direct Stand Against Antisemitism – Our Report to UN Special Rapporteur


Shaheryar Gill

June 19, 2020

We have just submitted a critical report to the office of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief on the issue of antisemitism.

Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed recently invited Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and others to submit information on issues relating to discrimination against minority religious or belief communities in law and in practice, the effects of such discrimination, and recommendations for good practices to effectively protect religious minorities. The information is intended to help the Special Rapporteur in preparation of his report on eliminating intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16), which will be submitted to the 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly.

The ACLJ’s international affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), has Special Consultative Status with the U.N. Economic and Social Council and can participate at the U.N. through oral presentations and written reports with various U.N. agencies. This was a great opportunity for us to join forces with the Special Rapporteur who has previously identified instances of “violence, discrimination and expressions of hostility motivated by antisemitism as a serious obstacle to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”

The purpose of our report is to urge the U.N. to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. In May 2016, the thirty-one Member States of the IHRA (including the United States) formally adopted a working definition of antisemitism, which states that

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Our report argues that

antisemitism [is] one of the world’s oldest forms of hatred, manifesting itself in evil words and deeds since time immemorial. Jews have historically been persecuted, scapegoated, and marginalised through overt acts of discrimination. Throughout history, Jews have faced periods of government-initiated or tolerated violence. Hate crimes against Jews have intensified over the last several years.

Our report then addresses various examples of discrimination by States in law and practice and presented data regarding antisemitic acts by individuals. We argued that “recent statistics on instances of antisemitism are quite startling and should be cause for major international concern.” We further argued that “the attitude and conduct of States towards Jews and Israel, as well as tolerance of antisemitism can contribute to a climate which fosters antisemitism among the general population.”

The report lists various examples of antisemitism by governments and institutions in Europe, the Middle East, and even in the United States, such as, effective banning of the Jewish ritual (kosher) slaughter of livestock and economic boycott of Israeli products in Europe; destruction of a Jewish cemetery and conversion of Jewish synagogues into libraries in Algeria; threats by the Yemeni government to convert to Islam or leave; and killings and imprisonment of Jews in Iran.

We argued that such governmental measures fuel societal hatred for Jews and lead to discrimination and violence by individuals. Our report then provided data of hate crimes, violence, and discrimination of Jews by individuals.

Finally, the report recommends the U.N. to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism as a best practice. The IHRA definition is the most universally accepted definition that enjoys unprecedented consensus. We argued that “[t]he global nature of antisemitism demands that the definition and response be global as well. There is a need to establish global clarity as to what actions constitute antisemitism and therefore warrant government response.” The IHRA definition also “unveils antisemitism that masks itself as anti-Zionism, without quelling legitimate criticisms of Israel.” As such, it “is the most comprehensive, pragmatic, and effective modern definition of antisemitism available to combat the phenomenon.”

We hope that our report will reinforce the Special Rapporteur’s work against antisemitism and assist him in his effort to incorporate best practices at the U.N. in combatting one of the world’s oldest forms of hate and will help achieve our collective goal of eliminating intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.