By Donald B. Kursch
CSCE Senior Advisor
The United States Helsinki Commission hosted an inter-Parliamentary Forum December 10, 2002 on Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region. The meeting, held in conjunction with the observance of International Human Rights Day, strengthened the partnership between members of the U.S. and German delegations which began earlier this year in Berlin during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA).
This process was launched in response to shared U.S. and German concerns with the upsurge in anti-Semitism in many parts of the 55-nation OSCE region and is designed to encourage parliaments to take decisive actions to counter this disturbing trend. A letter of intent outlining concrete steps to be pursued was signed at the conclusion of the Forum.
Chairing the meeting jointly were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag Member Professor Gert Weisskirchen of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Group. Helsinki Commission Members Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated, with Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) in attendance. Other German Bundestag participants were Dietmar Nietan of the SPD and Markus Löning of the Liberal Party (FDP). Senator Jerahmiel Grafstein (Liberal Party) of the Senate of Canada also took part in the Forum.
In his opening statement, Rep. Smith, who led the U.S. Delegation to Berlin, reaffirmed the principles that were set out in a U.S.-sponsored resolution from the Berlin OSCE PA meeting that anti-Semitism must have no place in the 21st century and that parliaments should “take concrete steps to make this vision a reality.” He expressed the hope that representatives of other parliaments from the OSCE participating States would join this process.
Prof. Weisskirchen defined anti-Semitism as a unique kind of racism. He stressed that the threat of ethnic hatred is an affront to the principles of democracy. Weisskirchen suggested that programs with long-term goals would be most effective at combating anti-Semitism and that focusing “on the education, both formal and informal, and on the media and on religion” are vital parts of a preventive strategy.
Rep. Cardin spoke to two points raised in the letter of intent. The first was the importance of education as a tool of erasing ignorance and promoting tolerance. The second was the establishment of a “coalition of the willing” to address the rise of anti-Semitic propaganda in the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Egypt. He proposed a parliamentary dialogue with these countries to deal with this problem. Rep. Hastings noted that in his home state of Florida a 1400 percent increase in anti-Semitism occurred this past year and that much of this increase was attributed to people under 21 years of age.
Mr. Nietan spoke from the perspective of a member of the younger generation of parliamentarians in the German Bundestag. Like his colleagues, he emphasized youth education as a crucial step in fighting discrimination. Mr. Löning emphasized two points: the need for instilling respect for other peoples, especially minorities, and creating the ability to “deal with the identity of others on an open and fair basis.”
Senator Grafstein noted a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada pointing out that there had been four arson attacks on synagogues during the past year, a number greater than at any time in his country’s history. He underscored his strong support for complementary parliamentary initiatives process and his determination to have the Canadian Parliament adopt a resolution he has introduced condemning anti-Semitism.
Three European and three American expert witnesses shared their views and recommendations with the parliamentarians. The first witness was Juliane Danker-Wetzel from the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technical University in Berlin. She tied the rise of anti-Semitic acts in the European Union states to the recent conflict in the Middle East. Danker-Wetzel pointed to the Internet as an important conduit for disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. She then highlighted how the Arab-Israeli conflict and criticism of Israel is often linked to anti-Semitic attitudes.
Ken Jacobson, Associate National Director of the Anti Defamation League began by suggesting the OSCE as an “ideal forum for meaningful action.” He noted a rise in the incidences of hate propaganda, citing the “big lie” which holds that Jews were responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He concluded with ten recommendations for fighting the virus of anti-Semitism, including increased anti-Israel bias and Holocaust awareness education programs, improved monitoring instruments and training for law enforcement and military personnel. Jacobson also recommended that the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 2003 be utilized for a special meeting to stress Holocaust education.
Dr. Hanno Loewy, Founder of the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt, argued that the most serious threat of anti-Semitism in Europe derives from the conflicts and discontent that exist in a post-colonial world. He cited as evidence, the large immigrant populations in Europe, who brought with them anti-Semitic beliefs. Loewy recommended that European countries establish legal structures regarding education, tax collection and access to public funds for Europeans of Islamic faith comparable to those that Christians and Jews already have.
Ambassador Alfred Moses, former President of the American Jewish Committee, asserted that modern manifestations of hatred towards Jews are rooted in a tradition of anti-Semitism that has plagued Europe for centuries. He argued that anti-Semitism must be defined more broadly than a “purely political phenomenon.” As such, he recommended that the United States and Germany use their influence in organizations such as the OSCE, NATO and the EU to raise anti-Semitism as a top priority to be addressed at the highest levels.
Rabbi Israel Singer, President of the World Jewish Congress, highlighted the problem of cynicism and indifference on issues of anti-Semitism by legislators. He deplored how Holocaust restitution efforts were used by some Europeans to justify anti-Semitic attitudes, an increased tendency by European politicians to use anti-Semitic nuances to appeal to certain constituencies, and the lack of balance in the positions of certain international institutions, such as the World Council of Churches, to developments in the Middle East.
The final panelist, Dr. Arkadi Vaksberg, Deputy Head of the Moscow PEN Center, recommended that a uniform legal structure be established across Europe and Russia for dealing with issues of human rights. He supported a clear and concrete definition of anti-Semitic acts, as well as creating an international commission to monitor and fight global anti-Semitism on a global basis.
Rep. Smith and Prof. Weisskirchen, concluded the Forum by signing a “Letter of Intent” that affirms a commitment to work together closely to fight anti-Semitism and encourage their colleagues in the U.S. Congress, German Bundestag, and in the parliamentary legislative bodies of other OSCE participating States, to adopt an action plan of concrete measures to counter anti-Semitic actions and attitudes.
Recommended measures include:
the adoption of parliamentary resolutions condemning anti-Semitism; the swift, forceful and public denunciation by parliamentarians of anti-Semitic acts;
the enactment and vigorous enforcement of appropriate criminal legislation to punish anti-Semitic actions;
the promotion of educational efforts among younger persons to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes; and
the creation of an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly-based “coalition of the willing” among OSCE parliamentarians to address anti-Semitic propaganda that appears to be increasing rapidly in a number of countries designated as OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation.
The signatories pledged to meet again in conjunction with the February 2003 Winter Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna to evaluate progress, seek active support from other parliamentarians and determine how the July 2003 Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to be held in Rotterdam can be best utilized to combat anti-Semitism.
An un-official transcript of the forum, text of the Letter of Intent and statements submitted for the record are available on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site located at http://www.csce.gov.
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.
United States Helsinki Commission intern David Vandenberg contributed to this article.