UN expert warns that anti-semitism is ‘toxic to democracy’

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed

GENEVA (17 October 2019) – Anti-semitism is toxic to democracy and poses a threat to all societies if left unaddressed, warned the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed.

“There is not a more graphic example than the Holocaust of how religious and racial hatred can lead to genocide and the destruction of societies,” he said in a report to the UN General Assembly on October 17, 2019.

“I am alarmed by the growing use of antisemitic tropes by white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and members of radical Islamist groups, in slogans, images, stereotypes and conspiracy theories to incite and justify hostility, discrimination and violence against Jews. I am also concerned about the increasing expressions of antisemitism emanating from sources in the political left and about discriminatory State practices towards Jews.”

Shaheed expressed serious concerns about the increased frequency of anti-semitic incidents, and the prevalence of antisemitic hate speech online.

“Violence, discrimination and expressions of hostility motivated by anti-semitism is a serious obstacle to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief,” the Special Rapporteur added. “Attacks on synagogues, desecration of cemeteries, or restrictions on the wearing of religious symbols and the practice of religious rites constitute violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief of Jews.

“Anti-semitism presents serious challenges to the elimination of all forms of intolerance, hatred and discrimination based on religion or belief. Such hatred poses risks to Jews and to members of minorities everywhere.

“As monitoring mechanisms for hate crimes are non-existent in many States, there is serious need for investments in education and training at all levels in identifying various manifestations of anti-semitism and of other hatred.”

Shaheed urged States, civil society, media and the UN to take action in addressing antisemitism within a wider human rights framework. “Citizens of all societies must be empowered with critical thinking, empathy and human rights literacy to be resilient to extremist ideologies, including antisemitic propaganda,” he said.

“States have a duty to take all appropriate measures and to prohibit by law incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence based on religion or belief, including against Jews.”

The expert recommended the use of the Working Definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as a non-legal educational tool while cautioning that the use of the definition by public bodies for any regulatory purpose would require due diligence to ensure that freedom of expression is protected for all in conformity with international human rights standard.

“Civil society actors can also play a vital role in combating anti-semitism by establishing inter-faith networks aimed at advancing social cohesion,” the expert said. “Let us collectively reject antisemitism and other forms of hatred and create an inclusive societies that uphold human rights and security for all.”

B’nai Brith Canada welcomes the ground-breaking report.

The complete report has been posted on the Special Rapporteur’s website.

This marks the first time that a senior UN expert has addressed the scourge of antisemitism directly, as an issue in its own right.

Shaheed visited Canada in June while working on the report and met with B’nai Brith representatives, who formally conveyed views on the impact of anti-semitism on freedom of religion.

“Thanks to Dr. Shaheed’s dedicated work and perseverance, the UN has an opportunity to acknowledge the corrosive nature of an ages-old hatred against Jews,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “Dr. Shaheed has offered constructive guidance on how all countries can finally confront anti-semitism effectively. His conclusions fit well with B’nai Brith’s Eight Point Plan to Tackle Anti-semitism, which we continue to pursue in our dialogue with Canada’s leaders.”

“This report represents an important step in recognizing that antisemitism poses a threat to freedom of religion or belief,” said Brian Herman, Director of Government Relations for B’nai Brith Canada. “The important work has just begun, and we will work with the Canadian government to ensure strong support for this report and concrete followup when it is discussed at the UN.”

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