By H. Knox Thames
The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a hearing June 16, 2004 entitled “Government Actions to Combat Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region.” The hearing was held on the heels of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism and was an opportunity to examine compliance with commitments highlighted in the conference declaration and to gather suggestions on how to further reduce anti-Semitic activity within the participating States that comprise the OSCE.
The Berlin Conference was held in response to what Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) described in his opening statement as “…a wave of anti-Semitic violence [that] swept through much of the OSCE region [in 2002]…unparalleled since the dark days of the Second World War.”
The conference produced the Berlin Declaration, a document signifying the commitment of OSCE participating States to monitor and combat anti-Semitic crimes and hate crimes. Chairman Smith noted, “The historic Berlin meeting was a highlight to our ongoing efforts to fight anti-Semitism, but it must not be our high-water mark. Governmental and elected leaders must continue to speak out publicly when instances of anti-Semitism arise.”
Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) addressed the current state of compliance with OSCE commitments stating, “We’re disappointed that so many of the participating States have yet to make available to ODIHR…the statistical information they agreed to make available.” Commissioner Cardin made clear such failure is unacceptable, focusing on the need for action, as governments must understand “it’s not just attending a conference, but it is what you do after the conference [by] which you will be judged.”
Commissioner Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) spoke of the importance of education in the fight against anti-Semitism. Citing the importance of Holocaust education as a tool that teaches “what happens when hatred and bigotry and violence are allowed any room in our world,” Commissioner Clinton added, “The recent conference in Berlin...was a very positive step, but we cannot assume that a conference and a statement and a promise of follow-up is enough.”
Commissioner Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) stressed, “Anti-Semitism is a hateful crime – one that knows no boundaries. In order for us to prevent it from spreading to other areas of the world, it is imperative that we address it now. Therefore, I look forward to working with my colleagues on the U.S. Helsinki Commission on these and other issues during the Edinburgh OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.”
Testifying before the Commission were: Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House International Relations Committee; Natan Sharansky, Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs; Betty Ehrenberg, Director of the Institute for Public Affairs at the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations; Paul Goldenberg, National Security Consultant to the American Jewish Committee; Jay Lefkowitz, Partner at Kirkland and Ellis, LLP; Fred Zeidman, Chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council; Stacy Burdett, Government and National Affairs Associate Director at the Anti-Defamation League; Shai Franklin, Director of Governmental Relations for the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; Dan Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International; James S. Tisch, Chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations; and Mark Weitzman, Director of the Task Force Against Hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Rep. Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the United States Congress, praised the achievements of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE conference for raising anti-Semitism and bringing about the Berlin Declaration. “The importance of this achievement cannot be overstated,” Lantos said. He then discussed modern anti-Semitism, describing it as a “new strain.” It is the “most virulent expression of hatred of Jews [to] emanate from Europe’s radicalized Arab and Muslim communities and from the political elites…on the left who accept their characterization of the democratic State of Israel as a monstrous violator of human rights.”
Minister Sharansky noted the distinctness of anti-Semitism, as it often takes the form of criticism against Israel. He highlighted the “3D test” to discern the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism – demonization, double standards and de-legitimization. “Today, [modern anti-Semites] are trying to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish State. While criticism of an Israeli policy may not be anti-Semitic, the denial of Israel’s right to exist is always anti-Semitic.” In concluding his testimony, Mr. Sharansky lauded the OSCE for its initiative on this issue but added, “For real progress to be made, the free world must be willing not only publicly and forcefully to condemn this anti-Semitism, but also to pursue a policy of linkage against states that support anti-Semitism.” Mr. Sharansky also showed lowlights from a highly anti-Semitic television show produced by Al-Manar in Syria, which has been viewed via satellite around the world.
The testimonies of Rep. Lantos and Minister Sharansky were followed by two panels of witnesses, each highlighting important strategies for fighting anti-Semitism. Betty Ehrenberg called the Berlin Conference a “breakthrough,” adding that it “represented a significant diplomatic victory” as “governments expressed a willingness to acknowledge the severity of anti-Semitism in their countries and to take actions to combat it.” She also reminded participants that “anti-Semitism, if allowed to continue to spread, will affect the foundations of world democracies.”
Paul Goldenberg testified to the importance of education, citing its relevance to law enforcement officials’ understanding of anti-Semitic crimes and hate-crimes. Mr. Goldenberg referred to his personal experience in training law enforcement agents to effectively combat hate crimes. “I have personally seen seasoned and jaded law enforcement officers who were disdainful of the impact of hate-crime statutes, once well-trained not only understood the damage of these crimes and what they did to the fabric and social order, but became energized to find effective ways to combat hate crimes.” To effectively educate law enforcement officials region-wide, Mr. Goldenberg suggested bringing together law enforcement professionals from around the globe that specialize in hate-crime investigation to train their counterparts in the OSCE region.
Jay Lefkowitz noted, when referring to the Berlin Conference, “The good news is that 55 nations agreed that anti-Semitism is a growing problem that needs to be tackled. The bad news is that the problem is growing more acute and many Jewish leaders from Europe reported to us that for the first time in more than half a century, Jews are afraid to wear symbols of their religion in public: yarmulkes, mezuzahs, the Star of David.”
Mr. Lefkowitz pointed out the segment in the Berlin Declaration, which “declared unambiguously” that “international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism…. In an organization like the OSCE, where many countries have large Muslim populations, and any member country, if it chooses, can block action by the entire body; the reference to Israel in the declaration was a very significant and positive development.”
Fred Zeidman underscored, “Educating new generations about the evils of anti-Semitism is essential.” Quoting President George W. Bush after his visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Zeidman said, “Moral discernment, decency, and tolerance – these can never be assumed in any time or in any place. They must always be taught.” To this end, Zeidman stressed the importance of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council’s participation in teacher training and curriculum development and urged continued and increased support for such efforts by the OSCE and other organizations.
Monitoring anti-Semitic and hate crimes within the region was also addressed in the hearing. Stacy Burdette, Shai Franklin, Dan Mariaschin, James Tisch, and Mark Weitzman each underscored the vital importance of the collection of data to defeat anti-Semitism and that ODIHR needed adequate resources to do the job. Their full statements and testimony are available on the Helsinki Commission website.
An unofficial transcript of the hearing is available through the Helsinki Commission’s website site at http://www.csce.gov.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent 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 from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.
United States Helsinki Commission Intern Andrew Lucius contributed to this article.