ASSISTANT SPECIAL ENVOY ELLIE COHANIM: An essential part of solving any problem is defining it. In our next session, we will examine the absolute sea change in understanding exactly what anti-Semitism is and what anti-Semitism looks like that has come as a result of the adoption of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism by nations and by institutions.
I also want to note that the U.S. Department of State has been using the IHRA definition since 2010, and President Donald Trump’s executive order combating anti-Semitism of December 2019 adopted the IHRA definition for all U.S. executive agencies as well.
Here to introduce the working definition of anti-Semitism is Ambassador Michaela Küchler, President of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and Special Representative for Relations with the Jewish Organizations. Ambassador Küchler will be introduced by the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust issues, Cherrie Daniels.
Next, we will hear from two members of the U.S. Congress on the importance of the formal adoption of the working definition at the governmental level. Joining us are U.S. Senator James Lankford, Republican, of Oklahoma, who is co-chairman of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism. And Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat, of Florida, who will be representing the U.S. in the recently launched international Inter-parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Anti-Semitism, joining lawmakers from Israel, the UK, Canada, and Australia in that effort.
And finally, we will hear from Ambassador Akiva Tor, head of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bureau for Interreligious Affairs and Diaspora Relations, who will offer his views on the importance of the IHRA working definition.
SPECIAL ENVOY CHERRIE DANIELS: I’m pleased to introduce today my good friend and colleague ambassador, Michaela Küchler, of the German Foreign Office. She’s also the current president of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a chairmanship that rotates between the 34 member nations.
Ambassador Küchler is the German Foreign Office’s Special Representative for relations with Jewish organizations, for Holocaust remembrance, for combating anti-Semitism, and for dealing with issues related to the Sinti and Roma. She brings a passion and a dedication and a real knowledge of all of these areas to her work, and I’ve seen that in the course of time since she’s become the chairperson or president of IHRA this year.
As chairperson of the IHRA, she’s put the German presidency’s focus on the issues of combating Holocaust distortion, denial, and relativization, and has created a global task force on that issue within IHRA. She’s also put a focus on creating consensus around defining a working definition of anti-Roma discrimination or antigypsyism, something that the United States fully supports.
I’m really pleased to welcome her today, and I know that her discussion on combating anti-Semitism and on best practices for adopting the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism will bring great contributions to this conference. I’m pleased to introduce Ambassador Michaela Küchler.
AMBASSADOR MICHAELA KUCHLER: Thank you, Ambassador Daniels, for your kind introduction. I really appreciate your dedication to the U.S.-German cooperation in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In the foundation, remembrance, responsibility, future, [INAUDIBLE], and on issues like archives, restitution, among others.
When Germany volunteered to take on the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, IHRA, we knew that 2020 would be an important year. In the field of Holocaust education, remembrance, and research, 2020 had long been seen as the anniversary year. Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Second World War, 20 years after the adoption of the IHRA Stockholm Declaration. We knew there would be a lot to commemorate.
We also knew there would be much work to be done. Anti-Semitism was on the rise worldwide. So was anti-Roma racism. Sites of remembrance needed to be safeguarded and Holocaust education promoted. The pledges made during the 2020 IHRA ministerial meeting in Brussels needed to be implemented.
We had also announced, as one of the priorities for the German presidency, a plan to initiate a global task force against Holocaust distortion. From the very beginning, we knew our plate would be quite full. But what we didn’t realize, what we couldn’t have realized, was that the quality of our work during this anniversary year would take on an undeniable urgency.
The pandemic threw into sharp relief what we knew had existed for years. Anti-Semitism and other hateful ideologies were gaining traction in mainstream society. We saw how quickly age-old anti-Semitic conspiracy myths were repurposed for this moment. We saw how they were popularized. We saw how anti-coronavirus measures were compared to Nazi Germany’s murderous policies, in a perverse distortion of the Holocaust. We saw how all of this was spread online and how it easily led into the offline world.
The coronavirus has not only affected the health of countless individuals, but also that of our Democratic, pluralistic value systems. If we are to ensure that our Democratic institutions emerge from this challenging time intact, we must take action. Addressing internet anti-Semitism, which poses a threat not only to Jews, but to all of society, is an essential piece of this puzzle.
The IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism can provide an essential starting point in this regard, both for discussion and for action. This educational tool can help to sensitize individuals, policymakers, and institutions to the existence of anti-Semitism in its various forms. And it indeed does exactly that, as I can report from the German experience, where the working definition is being taught to and used by prosecutors, the federal police, and the police of the federal states, as well as in schools, et cetera. It can help to better identify anti-Semitic incidents, as well as the mechanisms behind them.
The IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism should be viewed as one tool, an essential tool, in a robust toolbox of projects, educational guidelines, policy recommendations, research, and memorials and museums. A tool is worthless when it lies in the toolbox. To date, more than 20 states and countless universities, cities, regions, and civil society organizations have adopted the working definition. What matters now is that all these institutions make use of it. Implementation is of the essence.
Yes, we still have much work to do. A recent survey commissioned by the Claims Conference, an IHRA partner, showed that nearly half of American millennials and Generation Z had seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online. This should give us all pause. These posts take on a variety of forms. They might glorify complicit individuals who provided support to the Nazis, or their auxiliaries or collaborators. They might minimize the impact of the Holocaust or the number of victims, blame Jews for their own genocide, cast the Holocaust in a positive light, or blur responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps.
And Holocaust denial and distortion are an expression of anti-Semitism. It exonerates national socialism and anti-Semitism from guilt or responsibility, making Jews culpable and anti-Semitism once again legitimate.
Efforts to combat Holocaust distortion suffer from a lack of awareness, insufficient coordination, and inadequate monitoring. International cooperation is essential here, as historical distortion is an international problem.
That’s why the German presidency established the Global Task Force Against Holocaust Distortion, a platform, a network of experts and organizations, that would help both the IHRA and the international community address Holocaust denial and distortion effectively. Experts from more than 30 countries, with backgrounds in academia, education, and museology are currently working into what strategies and programs exists, what works well, and what does not. Concrete recommendations will be proposed during the German presidency of IHRA, with a view to adopt them before the handover to Greece in March next year.
For decades, the genocide of the Roma by Nazi Germany was largely ignored. While recent scholarship has advanced our knowledge of this genocide, there is still much work to be done, and despite a rich remembrance culture, general public awareness lags behind. Only in 2012 was a memorial for the victims of the Roma genocide built in Berlin. In January of this year, with the 2020 IHRA Ministerial Declaration, the IHRA strengthened its commitment to remembering the Roma genocide.
This Declaration also reminded us of how the neglect of this genocide has contributed to the continued discrimination of Roma today. Over the past three years, the experts of the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma have worked together with Roma communities around the world to develop a draft of a working definition of anti-Roma racism.
This working definition will help guide the IHRA in its work to better identify anti-Roma racism and is going to be a useful tool to further our understanding about how this past event impacts the present. We are confident that IHRA’s member countries will adopt it soon and thus complete the toolbox of working definitions of the IHRA of Holocaust denial and distortion, of anti-Semitism, and of antigypsyism, or anti-Roma racism.
SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD: Hello, I’m Senator James Lankford, from the great state of Oklahoma, and it is an honor to be able to speak with you today. I’m grateful for the commitment of Secretary Pompeo and the commitment of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr. Their work to combat anti-Semitism and their leadership in coordinating a response to the rise we’ve seen in anti-Semitism over the past few years has been essential.
In the United States Senate, I’m co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism. Senator Jacky Rosen and I created this task force in response to the alarming growth of anti-Semitism and hate crimes towards the Jewish community in recent years. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to ridding anti-Semitism, but on all levels, we can work with those around us to prevent anti-Semitism before it even starts.
We all have a part to play preventing anti-Semitism, no matter our race, our political affiliation, or our religion. I’m a Christian Republican from Oklahoma. Senator Rosen is a Jewish Democrat from Nevada. We both care about seeing the end to anti-Semitism.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines anti-Semitism as a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions, and religious facilities.
If there’s one thing you should know about lawmaking, it’s that definitions matter. The United States declared its independence 244 years ago, and some of the biggest issues that divide our political outlooks in the major political parties in our nation is the actual meaning of some of the very first laws we passed as a nation. We need a clear, agreed upon definition.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is clear. It’s also extremely helpful in training law enforcement and educators about how to identify anti-Semitism. And if we can identify anti-Semitism, it makes it that much easier to combat anti-Semitism.
It also helps the government better develop effective responses to anti-Semitism. 27 countries in the world have already formally adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Lately, even more have been added each month. The State Department adopted this definition nearly 10 years ago. Several federal agencies currently use this definition, yet Congress has yet to formally adopt it through legislation for all of government. That needs to be solved.
One of the greatest things we can export to the world is our values. Those values include both the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I believe we can promote free speech in a free society. However, we all have a personal responsibility to speak up against what isn’t right and just, including when we hear hateful speech rooted in anti-Semitism.
The challenge becomes when this hate speech turns into incitement or threats towards individuals or a people group. The Supreme Court’s been clear that incitement of violence is not protected speech. If we can identify what anti-Semitism looks like, we can correct it, and hopefully we can prevent hate crimes towards Jews as a whole.
With a legal definition like the IHRA definition, law enforcement are better equipped to identify anti-Semitism when it starts and respond more efficiently when that speech turns into a threat. We all want our basic rights protected.
The United States should not wait and will never be complicit in religious intolerance, bigotry, or hate. It’s not enough to just say it. Actions do speak louder than words. That’s why I’ve advocated for Congress’s formal adoption of this working definition. It includes important illustrations of anti-Semitism and provides a list of helpful examples to guide officials. Those examples are important and essential in the definition.
I firmly believe, as a nation, we are still called to live up to our founding principles and ideals. When we declared our independence, we were the first nation to embrace this radical idea of all people being created equal with inalienable rights, including the right to life, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.
Nearly 250 years later, we should still challenge ourselves to live up to our ideals with no exceptions. It’s those principles and ideals that should guide our laws and be reflected in our foreign policy. We all long for the day when anti-Semitism doesn’t exist. When we say never again, we aren’t just saying a catchphrase, or words to go on a wristband or a T-shirt. We’re affirming our commitment to ensure the horrors of perhaps the darkest age in world history never happens again.
That commitment against hate and anti-Semitism must be affirmed across all lines of faith and political affiliation, all parts of our government, in order to pursue a more peaceful world. It’s time for Congress to step up and to lead the nation in this front. I’m calling again today for the body to formally adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism and I’m hoping this will be a reality sooner rather than later.
Share your stories with elected officials. Help them understand how a formal adoption helps you better respond to any anti-Semitism in your role and why it matters. We’re still a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Your voice and your leadership matters to your elected officials. It’s not enough for Congress to just say we’re committed to combating anti-Semitism. Actions, as I said before, do speak louder than words, but words also need that clear definition. I’m grateful for your help in our journey to being a more perfect union, and as a nation, the beacon of peace for the world.
REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. I’m Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, representing Florida’s 23rd Congressional District. I’m a member of the House Appropriations and Oversight Committees, and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Jewish Relations and the Latino-Jewish Caucus. I’m also a member of the newly formed Inter-parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Anti-Semitism. I want to acknowledge my fellow task force member, Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunch, who was a speaker at the conference today as well.
I want to thank my friend, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr for inviting me to join the State Department’s virtual conference on internet anti-Semitism.
We are living through a time when anti-Semitism and hate of all kinds is rapidly increasing, especially over the internet. While online platforms have fostered global connections and reshaped society, they can also be a magnifier of, and a catalyst for anti-Semitism, for racism, misogyny, and other forms of hate and discrimination.
As the first Jewish congresswoman from Florida, I and my family unfortunately know what it feels like to be the target of anti-Semitic hate online. The scourge of rising anti-Semitism knows no borders, and its poisonous proliferation online fuels this infectious hatred. So regardless of our political affiliations, we must stand united behind a robust international strategy to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism and grow a truly committed team of global allies to work with us.
Amid this global pandemic, when more people are online, the urgency to act is even greater. We must demand real global accountability and strong social media safeguards. That’s why I have joined Knesset member Cotler-Wunch, my colleagues Congressman Ted Deutch, Congressman Chris Smith, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, as well as legislators from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, to address the growth of online bigotry through the formation of the Inter-parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Anti-Semitism.
Coming together internationally to unite against hate sends a powerful signal that acquiescence must come to an end now. Another important way we can combat global anti-Semitism is through embracing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, IHRA, working definition of anti-Semitism. In order to take meaningful steps to solve or prevent a problem, you need to educate people to help them understand the problem and its elements. The IHRA definition provides the international community with a clear and compact description of anti-Semitism and its various evolving manifestations, including everyday situations. Specific examples include Holocaust denial, prejudices against Jews, the denial of Israel’s right to exist, or delegitimization of the State of Israel.
The definition sends a strong message that governments understand the threat, which is the obvious first step in addressing it, and promotes a common understanding of the issue. It provides governmental authorities with a vehicle to take tougher stances and develop effective responses against anti-Semitic rhetoric and hate crimes.
At this critical time, we must expose online anti-Semitism that goes unaddressed or inadequately addressed on social media platforms. Recent examples circulating online of the conspiracy theories accusing Jews of creating, spreading, and attempting to profit from COVID-19. History tells us that anti-Semitism grows at times of great social upheaval and we need to ensure the same is not happening today.
But it’s not just COVID-19 that has exacerbated the spread of anti-Semitism. The global reach of the internet allows a person to spew hate from the seemingly protected place of their home. Many who might not feel comfortable shouting from the street can now spew hateful words or even threats online without fear of in-person repercussions. So in many ways it has never been easier for anti-Semitism to spread.
Through all of this, it is vital to accurately distinguish First Amendment protected speech, such as disagreement, or even criticism of the government of Israel, from harassment, intimidation, and discriminatory anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition is consistent with and builds upon the Obama administration’s 2010 State Department definition. It has been and continues to be a valuable tool that has increased the effectiveness of the State Department’s monitoring of anti-Semitism abroad. It has been adopted by more than 30 countries, government entities, U.S. states and cities, and is supported or endorsed by a number of other entities, including the European Union and the UN Secretary General.
We are at this conference today because the eradication of anti-Semitism is in the interest of all countries and communities. And I know we are all concerned that anti-Semitism is linked to so many other forms of hate, racism, and bigotry. One thing I’ve learned through my leadership in the Congressional Caucus on Black Jewish Relations and the Latino-Jewish Caucus is that no community is truly safe if another can be targeted by hate. Turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to discrimination is never an option. All communities must come together to confront hatred, intolerance, and injustice, wherever it rears its ugly head.
Ignorance and hatred will always breed violence and one of the most effective ways to combat ignorance is with education, like we are doing today with this conference. Thank you for inviting me to join you today. The best way to fight anti-Semitism is through an international and bipartisan approach. I look forward to working together united to identify hatred and combat discrimination against all people across the globe. Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR AKIVA TOR: It’s really a great honor to take part in this conference on online anti-Semitism organized by the State Department, and I’m very happy to be here with you today. The great advantage of the IHRA definition is that we finally have an agreed standard for what constitutes anti-Semitism. It is also wise that the definition is not legally binding, because anti-Semitism should not be illegal. It should not be illegal to be a racist, or a bigot, or a hateful person. But we should know hate and recognize it when we see it.
This is why it is so important that the internet platforms pay attention to the IHRA definition and learn from it. Social media and the worldwide web have become something akin to public mass media. The web platforms are less like a Hyde Park corner and more like a newspaper, or a radio, or television station, in which the internet companies provide the printing press, the electromagnetic bandwidth, the distribution infrastructure, and the economic wherewithal for spreading a worldview everywhere.
Just as we expect standards from any public broadcasting company or print newspaper, so we should expect a standard of safety and decency from the tech companies. Israel believes very deeply in freedom of speech, but the right to free expression does not require or obligate the internet industry to disseminate extreme hate materials. They too are moral actors and they are free to pursue internet commerce in line with ethics, social, and corporate responsibility.
Look, the truth is that the internet companies themselves acknowledge this. Facebook, Twitter, Google, TikTok, they all have codes of conduct regarding materials that they are unwilling to host. And yet we still see the most vile and vicious materials receiving the broadest distribution on all of these platforms. There really is no good reason why a search engine should deliver results for queries like the Holocaust is a lie. And it’s not sufficient that these searches don’t show up in English. They shouldn’t deliver Google results in Chinese, Russian, or Arabic either.
And this is where the IHRA definition can serve a really helpful purpose. I wouldn’t say that everything defined as anti-Semitic by the definition should be banned from the web. That would be too great an infringement on the principle of free speech. But I would say that the internet industry should take a very careful look at the IHRA working definition in order to understand the nature of the materials they are hosting. And I believe it will help them recognize dangerous and very extreme anti-Semitic speech when it appears on their platforms.
If the internet has become like a high speed superhighway, without any speed limits or driving laws, the IHRA definition can be a powerful tool for understanding the rules of the road and making use of the internet a safer endeavor and a freer endeavor. Thank you very much.