UNESCO reaffirms commitment to counter antisemitism at international academic conference

The International Conference An end to antisemitism! gathered from 18 to 22 February in Vienna, Austria 140 experts on antisemitism and over 800 participants to explore measures and policies to prevent and combat antisemitism. The conference, organized by the Universities of Vienna, Tel Aviv, New York and the European Jewish Congress, reviewed current research on the roots of antisemitism in history - from antiquity and the middle ages to modern times and contemporary societies. It explored its changing nature and social and political functions in various environments, and the impact of policies in a wide range of fields in curbing the rise of antisemitism over the past two decades. 

The discussions brought together historians, political and social scientists, education specialists, religious and community leaders, human rights activists, and policy makers, as well as representatives of international bodies including UNESCO, the European Commission, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

UNESCO was invited to provide insight in the context of "leadership talks" involving public figures and politicians including Heinz Fassmann, Austrian Federal Minister of Education, Science and Research; Christian Kern, former Federal Chancellor and leader of the Austrian Social Democratic Party; Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism. 

Drawing on UNESCO's mandate to promote education for global citizenship and dialogue through cultural understanding, Ana Luiza Thompson Flores, Director of UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), presented UNESCO's work to address antisemitism through education, notably in the context of its work on the prevention of violent extremism, and activities relating to education about the Holocaust and genocide. 

Noting the prevalence of antisemitism as a political phenomenon, including in societies where there are no Jews, Ana Luiza Thompson Flores reminded all of the importance of being able to identify, monitor and address contemporary antisemitism under all its guises, and when it expresses itself through distortion, relativization and denial of the Holocaust.

"By cultivating ideologies anchored in hate, prejudice, and inequality of identities, anti-Semitism threatens the realization of all people’s human rights" said Ms Thompson Flores, highlighting avenues to address antisemitism through education, for example by encouraging self-reflection, critical thinking, media literacy skills, and learning to understand better the specific functions of different forms of this hatred in the past and today. 

She underlined the importance of equipping education establishments with the capacity to address manifestations of antisemitism in the classroom, and to provide educators with efficient teaching materials and pedagogies:

"Against new forms of anti-Semitism, we must constantly reinvent our tools. This effort requires policy review, curriculum and textbook revision, new education materials, dedicated teacher training, review of effective pedagogies, stronger synergies with the non-formal sector of education" she said, announcing the launch in May 2018 of new Policy guidelines to address antisemitism through education,  to be published jointly by UNESCO and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.