by: Alan Simons - Last updated: 2006-02-26
Last week a remarkable international conference took place in Amsterdam on combating anti-Semitism in higher education facilities.
There were no demonstrations, no flag burners, no anti-Israel/anti-Zionist hate supporters and no police presence as delegates convened to attend the "1st International Conference on Academia anti-Semitism."
The conference was sponsored by the Dutch organisation Magenta Foundation. Magenta is an International Human Rights and anti-racism NGO that combats anti-Semitism, racism, Muslim-hate and other forms of discrimination. Participants to the conference came from Europe, Israel, Canada the USA and included representatives from academia, student organisations, NGOs and civil society.
Sessions included discussion on classical academic anti-Semitism in Europe and North America and anti-Zionism and anti-Israel related academic anti-Semitism in academia, in teaching and in the curricula.
The primary purpose of the two-day conference was to submit a series of recommendations to The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that could be adopted and implement by OSCE and its 55 participating states. In that, the conference must be defined as being successful. A presentation of the recommendations was accepted by the representative of the Chairman-in Office of OSCE. Currently the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel De Gucht, is OSCEs Chairman-in-Office.
What was seen as quite extraordinary by many delegates is that in terms of the diverse background of many the participants who came to the conference with their own agenda and issues, the all-encompassing preamble and recommendations took only two days to be adopted.
So what are these important recommendations that could have ramifications throughout OSCEs 55 participating states? Here they are, starting with the preamble:
Antisemitism has no place in higher education. However, in recent years universities on both sides of the Atlantic have had to grapple with this problem. We've witnessed reports of speakers in academic settings employing classic antisemitic stereotypes, demonising Jews, and demonising Israel. We have also seen the growth of petitions to boycott and exclude Israeli professors, students, and universities from academic exchange programs. Divestment campaigns and the rhetoric surrounding them are also problematic.
It is our conviction that academic freedom must be protected. However, we recognize that there is a clear distinction between voicing legitimate criticism of the policies of the State of Israel and antisemitism, and as such, anti-Zionism. Painful, deep-rooted antisemitism, including distortion and denial of the Holocaust exacerbates the problem.
In this context and in view of the EUMC/ODIHR Working Definition on Antisemitism, anti-Zionism is an increasing concern.
We fear that this age-old disease may poison a new generation. There is a dearth of information about the promotion of antisemitic hatred through academic sources and in the classroom. Society-at-large must counteract this problem; Jews alone cannot combat antisemitism in academia. The OSCE and its participating states, university leadership, student organizations, and civil society have a responsibility to ensure a climate that allows free debate, promotes academic integrity, and rejects bigotry and harassment in all their forms.
Recognizing the recommendations adopted by the OSCE through a series of conferences over the past few years, including the Berlin and Cordoba Declarations, as well as the comprehensive study and guidelines on Holocaust education and remembrance, and in consideration of its newly created Tolerance and Discrimination Programme, we encourage the OSCE and its participating states to consider the following recommendations.
Prepare standards and guidelines on academic responsibility and the protection of students from harassment, discrimination, and abuse in the academic environment, including antisemitism and racism.
Encourage universities to have clear and well-publicised grievance procedures for reporting and addressing problems related to antisemitism and racism.
Monitor language in the promotion of boycott and divestment movements to ensure that they don't violate the EUMC/ODIHR Working Definition on Antisemitism. Monitor and publicize when violations of that definition occur.
Further to the recommendations of the OSCE Paris Conference on Hate on the Internet, take measures to counter the promotion of hatred through the abuse of Internet services provided by universities.
In order to document and monitor the extent of the problem, conduct research into the promotion and tolerance of antisemitism in academia.
Support the growth and development of the newly created academic field of Hate Studies, which considers the human capacity to demonise and dehumanise the other and thus has implications for promoting tolerance.
Develop model curricula that promote the use of critical thinking in learning environments, equipping students with the tools to recognise and evaluate racist and antisemitic sources of information.
Further to the guidelines developed by the OSCE, take measures to counter the trivialisation and distortion of the Holocaust.
Encourage universities to develop training in their standard curricula that promotes tolerance and diversity. As a preventive measure, this training should also be promoted at primary and secondary levels of education through school curricula and in teacher education.
Promote joint efforts that bring together diverse groups committed to dialogue and civil discourse, especially when conflict in the Middle East threatens to create a climate of harassment or fear within the university. Student groups in particular should be recognized as important partners.
We now wait to report on OSCEs response.