The following was originally published at the ROI Blog.
The following is written by ROIer Dr. Andre Oboler on his recent trip to Canada.
With the support of the ROI Speakers Bureau, I attended the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism which was hosted at the Canadian Parliament between the 7th and the 9th of November. The conference brought together parliamentarians from 40 countries as well as leading experts in combating antisemitism and other forms of racism.
The conference opened at the Air and Space Museum with an address from Canada’s Governor General, followed by addresses from Elie Wiesel, Irwin Cotler and Jason Kenney. When Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Nobel committee called him a ‘messenger to mankind.’ At the opening of the ICCA, Mr. Wiesel questioned if our message against antisemitism and racism was wrong, he noted the message was increasingly ineffective. He pleaded for the assembled parliamentarians to take action against Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, highlighting that incitement to genocide was itself punishable under the genocide convention and that any country could refer Ahmadinejad to the UN Security Council. He wondered aloud why it hadn’t already been done.
The following day delegates were addressed by Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. He spoke of his visit to Ukraine two weeks earlier when he laid a wreath at the killing grounds of Babi Yar. He told the delegates that ‘while evil of this magnitude may be unfathomable, it is nonetheless fact.’ The Prime Minister spoke of the resurgence of antisemitism throughout the world. He warned, ‘there are those who would choose evil and would launch another Holocaust, if left unchecked’ and that this was the challenge before the conference. He went on to take a firm stand against new antisemitism, attacking Israel as a Jew amongst the nations, and this part of his address made headlines around the world. He spoke openly of the fact that there were many more votes at the UN for those willing to be anti-Israel than for those willing to support Israel, but declared Canada would stand with Israel as long as he was Prime Minister ‘whatever the cost.’
The core work of the conference took place in working groups, one stream for parliamentarians and one for experts, and these working groups were separated by plenary sessions and meal breaks where experts and parliamentarians gathered together. The working groups addressed topics such as legal remedies, hate on campus, discourse, global perspectives, state-sanctioned antisemitism, and hate on the internet.
I was a panellist on the Hate on the Internet session for the experts’ forum. I also released copies of two papers I’ve recently had published. One paper was an abridged version of an article for the book “Antisemitism on the Campus: Past & Present.” In that paper I focused on a YouTube video that was attracting hate like a lighting rod. When I prepared my presentation for the Internet Hate working group, I decided I would show people something from this hate magnate, and further, I would only get the example the morning of the talk. I woke up at 6am on the day of my presentation so I’d have time to finalize my slides. I went to the YouTube video that was attracting all this hate. The most popular two comments were “Does anyone really want a rotten Jewish corpse polluting their water supply? I don’t think so,” and below it, also a most popular comment, was the reply, “Agreed! Lets genocide them by burning them! But this time, let’s actually do it.” Despite everything I had heard at the conference, and everything I had seen online, these comments left me stunned. It was a feeling I took with me into the working group.
In the working group on hate on the Internet, the experts largely rejected the idea that government should have no role in the Internet and expressed concern about private companies who now seemed to have more power than governments yet were completely unaccountable. Education was advocated as a significant part of the solution, as were laws designed to force companies to take their responsibilities more seriously. It was pointed out that in other online issues it was only the back stop of laws or private legal action that got companies acting proactively. Elie Wiesel was right, we must question if our message is right, but likewise we must question if we have become too lax and willing to ignore racism and antisemitism- not only governments, and companies, but society as a whole.
The conference was a power experience, a great networking opportunity and most importantly, a great opportunity to share knowledge, influence policy makers and take concrete action against rising antisemitism . The parliamentarians decided that the working groups would continue working beyond the conference. The assistance from the ROI Speakers Bureau not only helped with the significant expenses of this trip, in the end it has helped facilitate an ongoing role working with policy makers to combat the world’s oldest hate. I encourage others to apply to the ROI Speakers Bureau and use it to go further and do more than currently seems possible.