U.S. Highlights Anti-Semitism as a Human Rights Concern

  • by:
    • Mark Onofrio
  • February 28, 2014

Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, a compendium of the world’s worst human rights violations, including Bashar Al-Assad’s brutality against his own people in Syria and crackdowns on fundamental freedoms in places like Russia, Egypt, and Ukraine.

The report highlighted another major human rights concern that manifests in just about every region: the persistence of anti-Semitism, whether promoted by official media, political parties, or peddled on the streets in the form of graffiti or harassment.


Anti-Semitism also remained a significant problem in 2013. According to a survey of eight European member states by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, harassment of Jews continued, with one-quarter of respondents stating they experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment in the 12 months before the survey. In the Middle East, media occasionally contained anti-Semitic articles and cartoons, some of which glorified or denied the Holocaust and blamed all Jews for actions by the state of Israel.

Threats to religious practice also emerged during the year. For example, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a non-binding resolution implying that religious male circumcision – as practiced by Jews and Muslims, and other religions – is a human rights violation.


These reports are cause for concern but they also point to the increase in U.S. reporting on anti-Semitism as a human rights problem.  ADL has called for rigorous U.S. monitoring as an indispensable tool in spotlighting the problem and supported enactment of the law requires U.S. embassies to report trends in anti-Semitism as part of their core human rights work.

Today, the number of countries in which the State Department is documenting incidents of anti-Semitism has more than doubled since that new law was enacted.  The increased coverage of anti-Semitism in these annual reports reflects a greater awareness of what anti-Semitism is and how it threatens human rights.  Indeed, the reports have grown increasingly attentive to the issue of how anti-Semitism in the public discourse puts Jews at risk, as well as how hostility toward Israel and Jews is too frequently commingled.

The State Department’s Report details infringements on human rights around the globe, including but not limited to government-sponsored persecution, bias and bigoted portrayal of minority groups in the media, anti-Semitic incidents, attacks on the LGBT community, and the marginalization of persons with disabilities. Secretary Kerry highlighted, in yesterday's press conference, the nearly 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality around the globe, and the struggle that those of the LGBT community face to survive, even in countries where homosexuality is not criminalized.

This routinized and required scrutiny of anti-Semitism and the full panoply of rights violations is accompanied by increased awareness and enhanced engagement by America’s diplomats.  And we know that understanding the nature and magnitude of a problem  is an essential jumping off point for prevention. When there is data, there is awareness; where there is awareness, there can be action.


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