The Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University on Thursday published its annual report titled “For a Righteous Cause,” focusing on initiatives of governments and citizens around the world to preserve Jewish heritage, teach about the Holocaust, and combat antisemitism and racism. The report is an expression of appreciation for inspiring initiatives, encouraging similar activities, and proposing ways for further improvement.
The Report indicates that recognizing the Holocaust and teaching lessons derived from it have recently expanded, even in countries where Holocaust education was uncommon, including in Africa and the Arab World. Alongside this positive trend, many educational, social, and legal initiatives for combating Holocaust denial and antisemitism have been advanced in Western Europe, America, and Australia, indicating broad recognition of the problem and its severity.
The Report documents many initiatives introduced over the past year in the Western World for preserving Jewish heritage, teaching about the Holocaust, and combating antisemitism. The initiatives indicate a growing awareness of the dangers posed by antisemitic propaganda on the internet, as well as increasing recognition of the importance of educating younger generations about the Holocaust.
In October 2022, the European Commission marked the first anniversary of the “European Union Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030)”. Actions during the first year included: combating antisemitism on the internet; the signing of the Vienna Declaration by 11 EU member states and several international organizations which committed to developing a common, standard methodology for recording antisemitic incidents; and launching a project to protect Jewish cemeteries in Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
The Report includes an extensive discussion about Cyprus, presenting it as a model to be emulated: even though no antisemitic incidents have been recorded in the country in recent years, its government has emphasized teaching the history of the Holocaust and the lessons derived from it in the education system, in law enforcement organizations, and sports clubs. This approach is based on a proactive view, an overall commitment to combating racism and xenophobia, and an understanding that learning about the Holocaust and fighting antisemitism is critical for a society that aims to strengthen its democratic and liberal values.
The Report analyzes the emerging interest in Jewish history and the Holocaust in several African countries, which see a resemblance between the tragedies experienced by the Jewish people and crimes against humanity perpetrated on the African continent. This sentiment is expressed, for example, in the Genocide Memorial National Museum in Rwanda, which commemorates the genocide of the country’s Tutsi minority that occurred four decades after the Holocaust while the world looked on in silence.
According to the Report, an encouraging trend was observed this year in several Arab countries, with a rising recognition of the history of antisemitism and the crimes of the Nazis. For example, in January 2022, Egypt took part in a session of the UN General Assembly that adopted a resolution condemning Holocaust denial. The Egyptian Ambassador to the UN conveyed the Arab consensus on the resolution.
This positive trend reflects a significant turnaround in Arab discourse on Jewish history. This was displayed in quite a few new initiatives, some in the literary sphere, promoting the preservation of Jewish heritage in several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco. These projects are described extensively in the Report.
Significant positive developments were also observed in formerly Communist countries. In December 2021, the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania launched the project “Stories from the Holocaust – Local Histories.” This initiative aimed to enhance the knowledge of Romanians about the history of their communities from the perspective of Jews and Roma persecuted during the Holocaust. In 2022 the project included street exhibitions featuring the life stories of Jews and Roma and their tribulations during this dark period.
In November 2022, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry organized an international conference on combating antisemitism and preserving Jewish heritage.
A significant step forward in combating antisemitism was also recorded in Ukraine. In February 2022, just a week before the fascist Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Parliament approved strict sentencing measures for antisemitic hate crimes: five to eight years in prison for antisemitic violence and a substantial fine for anti-Jewish incitement.
The Report was authored by eight experts from different disciplines, including Dr. Carl Yonker, Project Manager and Senior Researcher at the Center (Around the World: Government Initiatives, Legal Developments; the Example of Cyprus); the Center’s Founder, Prof. Dina Porat (Holocaust Remembrance in Africa); Dr. Ofir Winter (The Arab World); Adv. Talia Naamat (Around the World: Government Initiatives, Legal Developments); and researcher Fabian Spengler (Football: The Test Case of Borussia Dortmund in Germany).
Prof. Uriya Shavit, Head of the Center, said: “Regretfully, it must be admitted that despite global support for the fight against antisemitism, being a Jew has become less safe almost everywhere in the world. But giving up the struggle is not the solution. We must learn systematically, in a comparative manner, what has been done and what can be improved.”
“While our purpose was to highlight positive initiatives for combating antisemitism all over the world, we also noted at the beginning of the Report that his fight must not become the only identity-definer of Jewish intellectuals and organizations, that the Jewish moral compass must not be limited to this issue alone, and that the study of Jewish history should not focus solely on the Holocaust. Israel cannot express reservations about European political parties with roots in fascism and expect to find a different attitude in Europe toward Israeli parties with fascist roots,” Prof. Shavit added.