SPME Executive Director Sam Edelman and I have just returned from a very intense four days of meetings, discussions and lectures at the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. I want to give you a sense of the Forum and why SPME’s participation was so important.
I should start by saying that I found the program to be top heavy with speakers. The opening session, for example, included Avigdor Liberman (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israel), Yuli Edelstein (Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Israel), Vygaudas Usackas (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lithuania), Jason Kenney (Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Canada), Michael Kocab (Minister of Human Rights, Czech Republic), and Abraham Foxman (ADL). These were followed by the keynote speaker, Yehudah Bauer. I mention these specifics of this first session to convey both the seriousness and significance of the participants, but also the density and intensity of each 75 minute session. There followed in the next two days similar sessions of multiple speakers dealing with “the Old and New Antisemitism” , “The State of Antisemitism Around the World”, “Trends in the Delegitimization of Israel in the International Arena”, “Antisemitism in the Arab and Muslim World”, and “Historical Revisionism, Holocaust Denial and the ‘New’ Antisemitism” . For me, some of the most striking talks were those of Yehudah Bauer, Prof. Robert Wistrich (“the Old and New Antisemitism)” , Irwin Cotler (Trends in Delegitimization” ), Fiamma Nirenstein (Member of Italian Parliament, who was on the Delegitimization panel as well), John Mann (Member of Parliament, UK), Haras Rafiq (Sufi Council in the UK, on the Antisemitism in the Arab and Muslim World panel). The presentation of video clips by MEMRI was also quite striking and I think had a tremendous effect on the audience. Overall, however, I would have to say that little new or unexpected was said at these various sessions.
A second facet of the conference consisted of “Working Groups”. There were five of these, focusing on trends in Eastern Europe; Latin America and Iran; Antisemitism in cyberspace; Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions; and Best Practices in fighting Antisemitism. I was part of the BDS working group and Sam was in the “best practices” Group. The Groups met twice for an hour-and-a-half session each and were given the task of producing practical suggestions to be forwarded to the Israeli government. Given the large size of the Groups (mine was about 70) and the short periods of time, it is no surprise that the suggestions had lots of breadth but not much depth. Nonetheless, I think many of the Working Groups did come up with good proposals, in part because many circulated materials and even draft statements ahead of time.
For Sam and I, however, by far the most useful parts were the networking and sidebar conversations. We met briefly and exchanged cards with a number of people, including Natan Sharansky, Yuli Edelstein, Hannah Rosenthal (new US Department of State Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Antisemitism) , Manfred Gerstenfeld, Effie Eitam, and several people who had contacts in Spain (including Dr. Pilar Rahola, a former member of the Spanish parliament) who we hoped could help us establish a chapter in Spain in the wake of Ariel University’s expulsion from the Solar Decathlon. During these encounters, both Sam and I were surprised and, I must say, delighted by how many people knew of us and our work and who were interested, even anxious, to work with us and to build connections. What we discovered is that SPME is known out there and that people wanted to be associated with us. It will take Sam and me some time to work though all the business cards and to sort out the various new associations people and organizations want to have with us.
By Sam’s rough count, there were about 15 to 20 people (out of the 500 participants) who were associated with SPME.
My sense is that we are definitely part of the conversation at this point, a real tribute to SPME Co-Founder and now Past President, Ed Beck and the work he did to bring us to this level.