UNESCO trains policy-makers from over 60 countries on addressing antisemitism

Antisemitic attacks have increased by 13 percent in 2018 alone, threatening Jewish communities across the world. To respond to this alarming global trend, UNESCO builds the capacity of key stakeholders worldwide to address antisemitism in and through education.

In 2019, UNESCO trained 110 senior government officials from over 60 countries in a series of international workshops organized in partnership with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the World Jewish Congress (WJC). The workshops in WarsawParis and Geneva, aimed to provide policymakers with a deeper understanding of contemporary forms of antisemitism, and possible educational approaches and pedagogies to confront these. “Like any form of discrimination, antisemitism is a complex, toxic phenomenon that increasingly undermines human rights and social cohesion worldwide. Education cannot end antisemitism, but it can help to sharpen learners’ intellect and critical thinking skills to identify and dismantle hateful discourses and to strengthen their resilience against antisemitic prejudice”, underlined UNESCO Programme Specialist Karel Fracapane.

To accommodate the diverse backgrounds of participants, workshop facilitators and speakers relied on flexible pedagogies and highlighted global trends, such as the presence of antisemitism in countries with a small or no Jewish population and the prevalence of antisemitic hate speech online.  “Antisemitism takes many forms, but it is especially present in online environments”, explained Brittan Heller from the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University, who led a session on antisemitism online at the Warsaw and Paris workshops. “Due to the structure and nature of the internet, antisemitic content can frequently go viral.”

While antisemitism is a global problem, its scope, nature and impact may vary per country and region, as well as existing educational structures to accommodate preventive pedagogies. To adapt to these regional and national specificities, participants were invited to approach the topic from a wider perspective, looking at educational approaches and classroom methods that aim at strengthening the resilience of learners against antisemitic discourse, as well as against other form of discrimination, and violent extremism. Such approaches include strengthening media and information literacy, fostering critical thinking skills and civic engagement and favor learning about historical as well as contemporary forms of group-based discrimination and persecution, such as the Holocaust. “In France, antisemitism is addressed as part of the national curriculum on citizenship education. Students learn about confronting prejudice and stereotypes and how they nurture antisemitic discourses.  They can be taught about the role of civil society and about potential ways on how they can themselves contribute to addressing antisemitism”, said Johanna Barasz of the French Inter-ministerial delegation on the fight against racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-LGBT hate (DILCRAH), who participated in the workshop in Paris.

The workshop sessions did not only resonate with participants already engaged in educational programmes that address antisemitism, but also with participants who had little exposure to the topic beforehand. Ismaila Berthe from Mali, for example, explained “We have been facing many forms of extremist violence in Mali in the last years and have been engaged in programmes to prevent violent extremism and strengthen human rights. Antisemitism might not be as present in Mali as in other countries, but like any form of discrimination it infringes on the human rights of Jews and undermines social cohesion. The many good practices that we have been presented with here at the workshop can also inform the development of our educational programme in Mali.”

Abdullah Yildiz from the Turkish Ministry of National Education underlined the need to build the capacities of teachers: “Education can play an important role in providing learners with an understanding of human rights. Antisemitism can be addressed as part of human rights education, which is also reflected in our curriculum on Global Citizenship Education, which spans from basic to secondary education. To deliver impactful education it is important to invest into teacher training. Only when teachers understand the issues they can transmit related lessons to their students.”

Based on these new insights, participants were invited to develop action plans outlining potential national and regional activities in support of the prevention of antisemitism.

The workshops were organized within the framework of UNESCO’s wider programme to prevent violent extremism through education and reflected the recommendations outlined in the guidelines for policymakers, entitled “Addressing anti-Semitism through education”, jointly published by UNESCO and ODIHR in 2018. Since then, the guidelines have been translated into seven languages and UNESCO has expanded its programme to reach a broader target audience, including teachers and teacher trainers.

To provide further technical guidance, UNESCO and ODIHR have developed with the University College London, framework curricula for teacher training institutions on addressing antisemitism in schools, which will be launched in early 2020.  In addition, UNESCO will soon publish a series of mini-guides for teachers on responding to antisemitism, intolerance against Muslims, anti-refugee and anti-migrant discourse, and conspiracy theories in the classroom.

Based on these new publications, and in direct follow-up to the international workshops, UNESCO will organize a new series of regional and national capacity building workshops for policymakers and teacher trainers, scheduled for 2020.

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