WASHINGTON – The United Nations released an interim report by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on Monday, in which he says he is “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 meant to incite and justify hostility, discrimination, and violence against Jews.”
Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. He submitted his report to the Human Rights Council in accordance with General Assembly resolution.
His report, which the Israeli mission to the UN called “unprecedented,” identified antisemitism from all sides of the political spectrum and called for action.
He raised rare criticism for a UN official regarding the BDS movement, writing that “international law recognizes boycotts as constituting legitimate forms of political expression and that non-violent expressions of support for boycotts are, as a general matter, legitimate speech that should be protected.” However, he stressed that “expression which draws upon antisemitic tropes or stereotypes, rejects the right of Israel to exist, or advocates discrimination against Jewish individuals because of their religion should be condemned.”
“The Special Rapporteur takes note of numerous reports of an increase in many countries of what is sometimes called ‘left-wing’ antisemitism, in which individuals claiming to hold anti-racist and anti-imperialist views employ antisemitic narratives or tropes in the course of expressing anger at policies or practices of the Government of Israel,” Shaheed added.
“In some cases, individuals expressing such views have engaged in Holocaust denial; in others, they have conflated Zionism, the self-determination movement of the Jewish people, with racism; claimed Israel does not have a right to exist and accused those expressing concern over antisemitism as acting in bad faith.”
“The UN system has a vital role to play in engaging with Jewish communities to combat antisemitism,” he concluded. “The Secretary-General should consider appointing a senior-level focal point in the Office of the UN Secretary-General with responsibility for engaging with the Jewish communities worldwide, as well as monitoring antisemitism and the response of the UN there too.”
Shaheed added that he identifies violence, discrimination, and expressions of hostility motivated by antisemitism “as a serious obstacle to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”
“The Special Rapporteur notes with serious concern that the frequency of antisemitic incidents appears to be increasing in magnitude in several countries where monitors attempt to document it, including online; and that the prevalence of antisemitic attitudes and the risk of violence against Jewish individuals and sites appear to be significant elsewhere, including countries with little or no Jewish population.”
He found that these incidents have created a climate of fear among “a substantial number of Jews, impairing their right to manifest their religion,” and that “discriminatory acts by individuals and laws and policies by governments have also had a negative impact.”
“The Special Rapporteur stresses that antisemitism if left unchecked by governments, poses risks not only to Jews but also to members of other minority communities. Antisemitism is toxic to democracy and mutual respect of citizens and threatens all societies in which it goes unchallenged,” he added.
He urged States, civil society, the media, and the United Nations to follow “a human rights-based approach to combatting antisemitism,” and called for investments in education and training to enhance society-wide literacy about the different ways in which antisemitism manifests itself.
“We welcome the release of this unprecedented report on the subject of Antisemitism,” said Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. “The report reflects the organizational change toward Israel. The assertion that the BDS movement encourages Antisemitism is an important UN statement. As I have said many times, Antisemitism has no place in our society, and must be denounced everywhere and from every platform.”
Anne Herzberg, Legal Advisor and UN Liaison at the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor said “This report marks one of the first times the UN has addressed the issue of antisemitism in any detail. The Special Rapporteur condemned the use of antisemitic tropes and denial of Israel’s right to exist by BDS activists.”
“Importantly, the Rapporteur also recommends the IHRA definition as a useful tool in combating antisemitism. Hopefully, UN bodies, particularly the Human Rights Council, will follow the Rapporteur’s lead by adopting IHRA and ending their promotion of antisemitic tropes and attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.”