WJC Gathering Confronts Anti-Semitism
Shortly after 10 a.m. sirens blared throughout the New York Hilton Midtown’s Grand Ballroom. Images of Israelis standing still and silent were seen on background video screens. Conference attendees followed suit.
It was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) 5777/2017.
It was only fitting that on this most solemn of days, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) — the world’s leading Jewish organization that counts its advocacy “for justice for Holocaust victims and their heirs, obtaining restitution of, or compensation for, stolen Jewish property, and negotiating a settlement with Swiss banks for assets held in ‘dormant’ accounts,” along with “countering anti-Semitism in all forms” as some of its greatest accomplishments — would hold its 15th Plenary Assembly.
Before approximately 600 WJC delegates representing Jewish communities and organizations from more than 90 countries (including newcomers Albania and Bahrain), former U.S. ambassador to Austria Ronald S. Lauder, beginning his second decade as WJC president, described Jews as all having “unique stories; we look different and speak different languages. But in the end, we are one people, and we take care of each other. After the Torah, that is our most important mission.”
Lauder stressed the need to practice the Talmudic tenet that kol Yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another). And while Jews are freer today than ever before, he argued, the battle against new forms of anti-Semitism — on college campuses, on social media and through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel — must be fought with great resilience. Too many quarters are attempting to delegitimize Israel, Lauder said, by spewing anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.
Calling President Trump the “most pro-Israel president ever in the White House,” Lauder expressed gratitude for the president’s strong condemnation of anti-Semitism in his taped message to the WJC gathering.
Lauder also announced new WJC initiatives to combat anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist acts: A hasbarah (public relations) campaign, led by a WJC media division, has been charged with ridding hate speech from the internet; all available legal tools will be used to combat BDS movements; and Jewish education will be enhanced worldwide. In Lauder’s words regarding the latter: “If Jewish children have Jewish pride and see beauty in the Jewish religion, intermarriage rates will decrease and the Jewish future will be brighter.”
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, in a well-received and stirring address, assured the WJC delegates that “it’s a new day for Israel at the United Nations. I know it’s a new day for Israel at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.” Before her confirmation as ambassador, she said, “I watched in horror as the Security Council passed Resolution 2334 [reproving Israeli settlement activity in Judea, Samaria, and the eastern sector of united Jerusalem in the waning days of the Obama administration] — and the U.S. stood by and allowed it to happen [by abstaining]. I can say with complete and total confidence that those days are over.”
After praising UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the first UN leader to address a WJC conference, as a “good partner” who is “committed to fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms,” Haley said that the world body’s anti-Israel bias “is cut from the same cloth as the BDS movement and the global rise in anti-Semitism. They all seek to delegitimize Israel.” She saluted Israel as the only country in the region that grants equal justice under the law while fully respecting the rights of women and religious minorities. “As long as I’m America’s representative at the UN,” Haley declared, “I am going to stand for human rights and I am going to stand for the truth. And that means I am going to stand for Israel.”
Ms. Haley’s UN colleague, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon, built on her theme about standing for the truth when he said that “we [Israel] will fight lies [about Israel and Jews] with the truth. Together, we will prevail.”
Throughout the WJC Plenary Assembly, break-out sessions featured workshops on diverse topics such as the rise and impact of far right political parties on the global order; what it means to be a Jewish parliamentarian today; Israeli TV and movie success stories in Hollywood; dimensions of learning and discovery through the eyes of Nobel Laureates; and cyberhate and the fight against modern-day anti-Semitism.
The resolutions passed by WJC delegates that are now official organizational policy positions include a call for “law-enforcement agencies in all countries to closely monitor all anti-Semitic acts, including Holocaust denial, and to enforce existing legislation proscribing hate speech and acts to the fullest extent.” The WJC is also urging countries worldwide to adopt a common and binding definition of anti-Semitism.
On the issue of the Middle East peace process, the delegates called for renewed efforts by Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement based on previous WJC resolutions declaring that “two states for two peoples is the only workable, realistic basis for a true and lasting peace.” (After vigorous debate, the hot-button issue of Israeli settlement activity was withdrawn from resolution consideration.)
By Eli Chomsky