The Auschwitz concentration camp
The Auschwitz concentration campISTOCK

On the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023, the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University presented its annual report, according to which recognition of the Holocaust and the teaching of lessons derived from it have recently been expanded, even in countries where Holocaust education was uncommon in the past.

Regions seeing significantly more Holocaust education include Africa and the Arab nations. Parellel to this positive trend, many educational, social, and legal initiatives for combating Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism have been advanced in western Europe, America, and Australia, indicating broad recognition of the problem and its severity.

Prof. Uriya Shavit, Head of the Center, stated: “Regretfully, it must be admitted that despite global support for the fight against anti-Semitism, 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, comparatively, what has been done and what can be improved.”

Prof. Shavit added that “While our purpose was to highlight positive initiatives for combating anti-Semitism all over the world, we also noted at the beginning of the report that this 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." He also warned that, "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.”

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).

The report includes an extensive discussion about Cyprus, presenting it as a model to be emulated; even though no anti-Semitic 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 in 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 anti-Semitism 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 distinguish between the tragedies the Jewish people experienced 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 the rising recognition of the history of anti-Semitism 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 Romanians' knowledge about their communities' history 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 anti-Semitism and preserving Jewish heritage.

A significant step forward in combating anti-Semitism was also recorded in Ukraine. In February 2022, just a week before the fascist Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Parliament approved strict sentencing measures for anti-Semitic hate crimes: five to eight years in prison for anti-Semitic violence, and a substantial fine for anti-Jewish incitement.

The report documents many initiatives introduced over the past year in the Western World for preserving Jewish heritage, teaching about the Holocaust, and combating anti-Semitism. The initiatives indicate a growing awareness of the dangers posed by anti-Semitic propaganda on the internet and increasing recognition of the importance of educating the younger generation about the Holocaust.

Notable initiatives included:

In October 2022, the European Commission marked the first anniversary of the “European Union Strategy on Combating Anti-Semitism and Fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030)”. Actions during the first year included: combating anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitic incidents; and launching a project to protect Jewish cemeteries in Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

Following discussions held in 2022, the European Parliament and European Commission are expected to pass the Digital Services Act, requiring online platforms to remove hate speech, provide information on their use of algorithms, and have clear rules to address complaints related to hate speech.

In January 2022, the Austrian Parliament was presented with the first annual implementation report detailing actions to advance the country’s National Strategy to prevent and combat all forms of anti-Semitism. Actions included: safeguarding Jewish life in the country and ensuring the Jewish community’s future; adopting the IHRA Working Definition by Austria’s top football league, the Bundesliga; holding seminars on anti-Semitism for police officers; and initiating a declaration against anti-Semitism at the UN Human Rights Council.

In March 2022, the United States Senate appointed the country’s first special ambassador for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, historian Prof. Deborah Lipstadt. In the summer, Lipstadt traveled to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In March, President Biden signed the 2022 federal government funding package of US$2M to implement the Never Again Education Act. These funds will be used for training teachers by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as special activities for monitoring and combating global anti-Semitism. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed three bills to ensure that schools in the state provide high-quality Holocaust education, that museums acknowledge art stolen by the Nazi regime, and that Holocaust survivors receive their reparation payments from Germany in total. Several states in the US, including New York, Iowa, New Mexico, and Arizona, adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

In April, Canada introduced a federal bill that defines punishments for denying, condoning, or downplaying the Holocaust and earmarks $70M for funding Jewish community initiatives. The city of Toronto launched a new public education campaign to raise awareness about anti-Semitism under the title “Toronto for All”. The campaign calls upon local citizens to become educated about the Jewish community and anti-Semitism, create inclusive spaces, and make their voices heard when they witness acts of bias and hate - offering support to victims and reporting hate crimes to the authorities. The Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

In July, the Organization of American States (OAS), in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), co-published a Spanish-language handbook entitled “Handbook for the Practical Use of the IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism”. Guatemala and Colombia adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, joining the United States, Canada, and Argentina in the pledge to confront anti-Semitism throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Several positive initiatives were also seen in Australia. New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Victoria and NSW passed legislation banning public displays of Nazi symbols, specifically the swastika, with a maximum punishment of a year in jail and/or a substantial fine. Queensland and Tasmania also introduced legislation to ban Nazi symbols.

The report also presents a detailed case study on the transformation of the German football club Borussia Dortmund – as a model of commitment to the fight against anti-Semitism, setting an example for other European sports clubs and organizations. The club, which in the past served as fertile ground for the activities of neo-Nazi pseudo-fans, now takes an active and firm stand against anti-Semitism. Among other actions, the club conducts educational tours for young fans to concentration camps and works closely with Yad Vashem.