By Don Kursch
CSCE Senior Advisor
United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse convened a forum to address the rise in anti-Semitism in the OSCE region and consider possible collective actions in order to reverse this alarming trend.
The panel forum was held in early July in conjunction with the 11th annual Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Each of the 11 delegates to the Assembly from the U.S. Congress attended the forum as did several members of the German delegation, including former Bundestag President and OSCE PA Vice President Dr. Rita Sussmuth. Parliamentarians from other delegations to the Assembly, U.S. Embassy officials, representatives of civil society and members of the press were also present.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Smith, who headed the U.S. delegation to the Berlin Assembly, condemned politicians who promote aggressive nationalism and, as a result, have fed "the latent monster of anti-Semitism." He noted that the actions of the extreme right are a startling reminder of how the sins of intolerance and xenophobia remain prevalent in certain circles. Smith also observed that hostility toward Jews has erupted from second generation Arabs in Western Europe.
Mr. Smith called upon all OSCE participating States, including the United States, to be "proactive, vigilant and determined" to combat anti-Semitic violence. He urged the decisive adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly of a US-sponsored resolution condemning anti-Semitism. That resolution was subsequently approved unanimously by the Assembly of nearly 300 parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region.
German Parliamentarian Prof. Gert Weisskirchen recalled the horrors that anti-Semitism had inflicted on Germany and Europe as a whole. It is imperative that these crimes never be forgotten, Weisskirchen said. Germany had made extensive efforts to educate its citizens about the Holocaust, however, as the current rise in anti-Semitism suggests, such efforts had to be continued and intensified. Prof. Weisskirchen called for a serious program of action to be embraced by all of the countries of the OSCE and suggested that the United States and Germany work closely together to provide leadership.
Four experts on anti-Semitism then offered their views to the Forum. They included Dr. Wolfgang Benz, Director of the Center for Anti-Semitic Research at the Technical University of Berlin; Mr. Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League; Dr. Shimon Samuels, Director for International Liaison at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Paris; and Dr. Wolfgang Schoeps, Professor at the University of Potsdam and Director of the Moses Mendelsohn Center for European-Jewish Studies.
Prof. Schoeps began by stressing that anti-Semitism was not just a German or European problem but a worldwide phenomenon. He said that about 15 percent of the German public might be described as anti-Semitic. More ominous was the additional 30 percent of the population he described as "latent anti-Semites" who, in reaction to media reports, would be inclined to condone or even participate in anti-Semitic actions. Such individuals would deny being anti-Semites, at the same time declaring that "they didn't like Jews." Schoeps decried the threefold increase in attacks on Jewish institutions that have taken place since unification. As a German citizen, who was also Jewish, this impacted negatively on his comfort levels. At the same time, he complimented German schools and trade unions on their educational efforts to combat anti-Semitism and racism.
Dr. Benz noted that while anti-Semitic attitudes have become less socially acceptable in Germany, the number of incidents was clearly rising. These have increased from 65 in 2000 to 106 in 2001. The first quarter of 2002 had registered 33 incidents. Benz suggested the deteriorating situation in the Middle East and the inclination of certain elements in the media to compare Israeli actions to those of the Nazis may be connected with this trend. At the same time, he insisted that anti-Semitism in Germany did not have any resonance in the German political arena. However, Benz added, this was not true in certain other European countries such as Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine.
Mr. Foxman began by noting that, after ten years of decline, anti-Semitic attitudes are increasing in the United States. According to ADL-initiated surveys, 17 percent of the U.S. population had anti-Semitic feelings, but among the black and Hispanic populations the level was much higher at 35 percent. The number of incidents in the first five months of 2002 had increased by11 percent, according to Foxman.
Sadly, according to ADL surveys, the levels of anti-Semitic feelings in Europe were approximately twice as high as in the United States, with 30 percent of the population harboring a wide range of anti-Semitic stereotypes and 45 percent believing that their fellow Jewish citizens were more loyal to Israel than to their own countries.
Foxman said that the apathy among so many European leaders and citizens in what is happening is very alarming. "How many times must the world learn that the sin of omission is as dangerous as the sin of commission?" Foxman asked, calling on all OSCE participating States to follow the lead of the German Bundestag and decisively pass resolutions that condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.
Dr. Samuels pointed out how the hate speech featured so prominently at the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban contributed to an increased acceptance of anti-Semitic attitudes. He feared the World Conference on Sustainable Development, scheduled for Johannesburg in August, could produce similar, or worse, results.
Dr. Samuels called upon the United States and Germany to take the lead in ensuring the U.N. forum maintain the integrity of its environmental agenda. Samuels said one bright note was the apparent readiness of the new French government to recognize the problem and take appropriate action. He concluded that OSCE governments must take every measure to remove their Jewish communities from the cross hairs of the Middle East conflict for which they are too often forced to pay a price.
The Helsinki Commission held a hearing May 22 on the continuing wave of anti-Semitic attacks that has swept across Europe this year.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.