EJC holds presentation about UNESCO project on fighting antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination through education

The European Jewish Congress, together with B’nai B’rith International, held a presentation at the European Parliament entitled ‘Educating against antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination’ hosted by the European Parliament Working Group against Antisemitism (WGAS) and its Board Member Ilana Cicurel MEP, in partnership with UNESCO and the European Commission.

The event aimed to raise awareness about the power of education to counter antisemitism and all forms of intolerance and discrimination, and to provide information to members of the European Parliament and other European and international stakeholders about UNESCO activities to address and prevent antisemitism through education.

In her opening remarks, WGAS Board Member Ilana Cicurel acknowledged the rise of antisemitism and hate in Europe, the importance of education in combating those problems, the challenges faced by teachers, educators and academics and called for a collective action against antisemitism: ‘The fight against antisemitism is the responsibility of everyone, and allowing it to thrive would jeopardize European civilization’. Ilana Cicurel commended the project being carried out by UNESCO in partnership with the OSCE/ODIHR, funded by the European Commission, on the development and implementation of the educational dimension of the national strategies to combat antisemitism and foster Jewish life in 12 EU Member States. The project includesorganizing trainings for education stakeholders, providing school materials and enhancing the ability of students to address antisemitism and fake news with the focus placed on curricula and guidelines based on the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Raya Kalenova, EJC Executive Vice-President, emphasized the need to incorporate Jewish and Holocaust education in schools throughout Europe, making it mandatory to learn about Jewish heritage and traditions at all levels of education, and training teachers to counteract antisemitic narratives in the classrooms: ‘Although a lot of progress has already been made in the fight against antisemitism, we still have a lot of challenges to overcome together as Holocaust denial, antisemitic conspiracy theories and more generally ignorance are thriving in our classrooms. We expect the 12 member states that are part of the UNESCO initiative to fulfil their obligations and ensure that schools are free of stereotypes, misinformation, and discrimination that may fuel antisemitic attitudes, prejudices and hatred’.

Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, reiterated the importance of education in addressing societal challenges with schools being channels of values transmission, highlighting the need for member states to prioritize education and collaborate with UNESCO to revise curricula to include Holocaust education and to empower teachers to address antisemitism in classrooms.

In his presentation of the EU-funded project on addressing antisemitism through education in Europe, Karel Fracapane, Programme Specialist, Section for Global Citizenship and Peace Education, Education Sector, UNESCO, highlighted the need to educate about the complexities of antisemitism, address the representation or lack of representation of the Jewish people in school curricula, establish partnerships with schools and Jewish education representatives, and to develop awareness raising procedures. He reported that UNESCO published recommendations, advocated for the inclusion of antisemitism in the UN’s action plan, promoted inclusive educational programmes focusing on human rights and digital citizenship, and facilitated international exchanges to promote best practices, including training and research.

In her special address, Isabelle Rome, French Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities, highlighted the commitment of the French government to the fight against antisemitism, including adopting the IHRA definition, banning antisemitic associations, and combating hate speech online and offline. The minister presented France’s new action plan on combatting discrimination, racism and antisemitism that focuses on education, training, and awareness-raising to address the root causes of antisemitism. The plan includes visits to Holocaust memorial sites for all school children, digital dimension initiatives, mandatory training for teachers and public service workers, and strong enforcement measures to combat antisemitic acts and discourse.

The conference continued with a panel discussion moderated by EJC Director of European Affairs Ariella Woitchik on the importance of education to address antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination featuring Joël Kotek, Historian and professor at the Free University of Brussels (ULB), Heather Mann, Associate Project Officer, Section for Global Citizenship and Peace Education, Education Sector, UNESCO, Alex Maws, Head of Education and Heritage, The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), and Viviane Teitelbaum, Author, Member of the Brussels Parliament. The panellists discussed the nature of antisemitism as a conspiracy theory, the need for comprehensive education on antisemitism and Holocaust, the challenges of addressing unconscious and conscious antisemitism in classrooms, the harassment and bullying faced by Jewish students in public schools, the impact of the Middle East conflict on the dialogue between Jewish and non-Jewish youngsters, and the importance of training teachers to counter antisemitism.

Alina Bricman, Director of European Union Affairs at B’nai B’rith International, emphasized that democratic resilience was at stake, highlighting the importance of critical thinking, building inclusive spaces, promoting diversity, prioritising ethics over facts, and mainstreaming relevant information about antisemitism, Holocaust and Jewish life in education.

In her closing remarks that concluded the event, WGAS Board Member Ilana Cicurel MEP emphasized that combating antisemitism requires a multidimensional approach involving several ministries, addressing its connection to conspiracy theories and the societal decline, while also highlighting the importance of aligning with the living Judaism, and sharing best practices within the European education area to become a stronger educational force.