The Ottawa Protocol

This month saw a major advance in international efforts to combat anti-Semitism on university campuses. On November 10, the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA) issued an international declaration which will be known as “The Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism.” This protocol, which was unanimously adopted by representatives of over fifty countries’ parliaments, including the U.S. Congress, will provide a critical new tool to combat resurgent campus anti-Semitism. The Institute for Jewish and Community Research supported this conference with presentations on various aspects of campus anti-Semitism and provided assistance for the resulting protocol.

The ICCA issued the Ottawa Protocol at the end of a two-day international parliamentarians’ conference hosted by the government of Canada and convened in the halls of Canada’s Parliament. This gathering was intended to build upon a similar convocation in London nearly two years ago, which had given rise to the important “London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened the conference with a stirring keynote address, which will be remembered as one of the clearest and firmest statements on this topic by a head of state. In an exceptionally cogent passage, Mr. Harper explained some of the characteristic features of contemporary anti-Semitism: “Harnessing disparate anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.”

The Ottawa Protocol begins with an expression of concern that, since the London Conference in February 2009, recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes and attacks on Jewish persons, property, and institutions have continued to increase globally. The parliamentarians expressed particular alarm concerning state-sponsored anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism and hate on the internet, and the inadequacy of governmental responses. The most significant contribution of the Ottawa Protocol, however, will likely be its focus on the resurgence of anti-Jewish animus in higher education.

The Ottawa Conference’s focus on the campus problem began with the Harper keynote, which acknowledged that, “Anti-Semitism has gained a place at our universities, where at times it is not the mob who are removed, but the Jewish students under attack.” The Protocol reflects Harper’s insights, as well as the testimony provided on two panels by experts from four countries (including Institute for Jewish and Community Research testimony on both panels). The Protocol announces: “We are concerned by the reported incidents of antisemitism on campuses, such as acts of violence, verbal abuse, rank intolerance, and assaults on those committed to free inquiry, while undermining fundamental academic values.”

What is most notable, however, is the manner in which the Protocol proposes that government and university leaders address campus anti-Semitism, i.e., by naming and condemning it with the same specificity used in other instances of hate and racism. In this way, the Protocol urges university leaders “to combat antisemitism with the same seriousness with which they confront other forms of hate.” More specifically, the Protocol urges universities “to define antisemitism clearly, provide specific examples, and enforce conduct codes firmly, while ensuring compliance with freedom of speech and the principle of academic freedom.” Following IJCR’s recommendation, the Protocol urges universities to “use the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism as a basis for education, training and orientation.”

The significance of the Ottawa Protocol’s campus anti-Semitism provision is best understood in light another important insight in Prime Minister Harper’s introductory remarks: “We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is.” Too often, advocates are reluctant to expose anti-Jewish bigotry for what it is. When they do so, they are often chastised for exaggerating the problem, for being unduly alarmist, for being Zionist apologists, or for “crying wolf.” Understandably enough, even forceful advocates are often disarmed by this constant refrain. These conditions make it even more important to be “relentless,” in Harper’s terms, about exposing the anti-Semitism which is found on too many college campuses. The Ottawa Protocol provides important recommendations for doing so. In particular, it provides substantial international support for IJCR’s position that the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism be accepted as the normative standard for university-based education, training and orientation around issues of anti-Semitism.

In one of the Ottawa Conference’s more surprising twists, this approach received an unexpected boost from the Obama Adaministation’s controversial Special Envoy for Global Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal. Rosenthal delivered a very helpful address to the Ottawa conference, which is well worth reading. Given the widespread criticism that Ms. Rosenthal has received during her tenure, it was especially welcome to hear her announce, on behalf of the Obama Administration, that “when academics from Israel are boycotted – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism.” In line with the approach of her Bush Administration predecessor, IJCR Research Scholar Gregg Rickman, Ms. Rosenthal allowed that the “State Department uses Natan Sharansky’s framework for identifying when someone or a government crosses the line – when Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized.” In such instances, as Canada’s prime minister reminds us, we must be relentless in exposing anti-Semitism for what it is.