UN report delivers plan to combat antisemitism

  • Date

    Fri 18 Oct 19

An Essex human rights expert has presented his report on antisemitism to the United Nations (UN) and urged all parties to adopt measures to target hatred.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and a member of the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, spent two years working on the report.

In it, he proposes a human rights-based approach, with States bearing the primary responsibility for tackling antisemitism.

His report explains: “Under international human rights law, States are required to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance and violence on such grounds, including where such acts are by private individuals.”

His report calls for investment in education, to build more stable societies. States should also commit resources to security measures, take responsibility for tackling online abuse and respond unequivocally when antisemitic hate crimes are committed. They should pass and enforce legislation, outlawing antisemitic bias, ensure public officials are trained to recognise and record antisemitic hate crimes and develop systems, in partnership with Jewish community groups, to encourage reporting and allow for the recording of specific data on antisemitic behaviour, to enable an ongoing analysis.

Political parties, he says in his report, “Should adopt and enforce ethical guidelines in relation to the conduct of their representatives, in particular with respect to public speech. Party leaders must promptly, clearly and consistently reject manifestations of antisemitism within their parties and in public discourse.”

Reflecting on his report, Dr Shaheed stressed the importance of supporting victims. He said: “Often the focus is on the baddies. How much focus is there on victims? We need to recognise the impact of hate crimes on individual human beings and, when an individual’s rights are violated, governments must provide remedy.”

The UN must also face up to its responsibilities: “There is a feeling amongst community groups that the United Nations doesn’t work for the Jewish community, it’s not a place for them. This has come about partly because of the Human Rights Committee’s focus on Israel, but it is a shortcoming that we need to address.”

His own experience, researching his report, appeared to support the Jewish community’s concern: “A significant part of my work is to write reports to governments, noting human rights violations involving individuals. Looking back through the UN database, I found only two cases involving Jewish individuals over a period of 30 years. Why is that the case?”

The report also notes the ongoing debate over the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and whether its activities in relation to Israel are antisemitic, a charge the movement rejects. The Special Rapporteur notes that boycotts are recognised as a legitimate form of expression and the right to boycott should not be limited, for example, by laws that penalise those supporting the BDS campaign. He notes, however, that support for the boycott could be expressed in ways which are antisemitic and, when this happens, such behaviour must be condemned.

In response to the definition of antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and concerns expressed regarding its impact on freedom of expression, the report finds that this definition provides a useful tool in educating audiences about antisemitism, but public bodies should exercise due diligence when seeking to rely on it in a regulatory context.

Dr Shaheed said: “Antisemitism reflects a deep dysfunction in our society. But it is also a canary in a coalmine, alerting us to the ‘persecution of the other’ which manifests itself in so many ways.”

In the coming months, Dr Shaheed will be meeting with UN agencies to develop plans for an education programme and writing to national governments to urge action in line with the report’s findings.