Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Mark B. Levin
Executive Director - NCSJ

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Mr. Chairman and Members of the Commission, it is my privilege to appear before you this morning as a supporter and as your partner in the mission to realize the fullest promise of the Helsinki process. The Helsinki Commission is unique in the federal system, uniting the Executive and Legislative Branches with the non-governmental sector, with Commissioners and long-serving staff devoted to the Helsinki process and related international mechanisms.

In large part due to Congressional initiative and the example and vision of this Commission, new U.S. Government partners have arisen to address these concerns. Among these are the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, the Office of International Religious Freedom and the Ambassador at Large in the Department of State, the U.S. Government Roundtable on Religious Freedom, and annual reviews such as the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and on Religious Freedom. The involvement of the non-governmental community in each of these processes is a cornerstone of their authority and their success.

As you know, NCSJ is an umbrella of nearly 50 national organizations and over 300 local community federations and community councils across the United States. We coordinate and represent the organized American Jewish community on advocacy relating to the former Soviet Union, and our membership includes the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, United Jewish Communities, and many other well-known agencies devoted to promoting tolerance and combating prejudice and anti-Semitism around the world. This combined experience and expertise has significantly informed my comments to you today.

UNEASY PROGRESS

As this is not the first opportunity I have had to testify before the Commission, let me reflect on an irony from a previous occasion, a Commission hearing from January 15, 1999. We could already see that state-sponsored anti-Semitism was effectively extinct, but that popular anti-Semitism was on an alarming rise in certain quarters of post-Soviet society. At that time, I concluded with the following warning:

Anti-Semitism remains a serious threat in Russia today. Totalitarian philosophies, such as those cited above, are not concerned with human rights, and have negative views toward minority groups. Meanwhile, weak democratic structures exist in the former Soviet Union, allowing the unchecked freedom to propagate ethnic hatred and violence. The Soviet Jewry movement has made great achievements over the past three decades. Now is not the time to let a reactionary voice override these accomplishments. Now is the time for Russia’s leadership to exhibit a greater resolve in addressing this issue.

It is critical that the Russian government understand the importance of its commitment to human rights and the rule of law, and that it adhere to that commitment. It is critical that Russia develop the necessary infrastructure to support economic development, and guarantee law enforcement and the protection of civil rights of all its citizens. It is critical to advocate the prosecution of anyone, from common citizen to government official, who propagates ethnic hatred. This is the time to send a strong message to Russia, denouncing the growing anti-Semitism and urge these officials to take concrete action to eradicate anti-Semitism.

The news I bring you today is better, if not entirely comforting – better than three years ago, and better as well than at this moment in the established democracies of Western Europe. Who would have thought that the concerns I just recalled from 1999 would become so immediate throughout the European continent?

Yevgeny Satanovsky, President of the Russian Jewish Congress, suggested an explanation for this seeming discrepancy between East and West: While Russians and others in the successor states have only recently begun learning lessons of the Holocaust, Western Europeans may already be forgetting those same necessary lessons. Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar of Russia spoke out last year when extremist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky dismissed the significance of the Holocaust for Russians: “The memory of the Holocaust is a guarantee of democratic changes in our country and that it will never again turn back toward totalitarianism and any forms of hatred,” Rabbi Lazar said.

I doubt whether anyone present here today has ever taken Western European enlightenment for granted, however, least of all the member organizations of NCSJ. This would be a luxury we cannot afford, as for us the lessons of the Holocaust and repeated persecution will always run deep.

What positive example can Western Europe offer to its eastern neighbors? Surely, many cultural and political accomplishments come to mind. Yet, when it comes to sensitivity on minority issues, sadly Western Europe has taken too much for granted. Thus it is not surprising that Russians can defend restrictions on minority faiths by pointing to comparable practices in France, Belgium, and Germany. Nor is it surprising when successor states defend votes in favor of anti-Israel and seemingly anti-Semitic United Nations resolutions by claiming to follow ‘the Western European example.’

The repeal of the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution by the United Nations, passed the same year the Helsinki Final Act was signed, meant anti-Semites would have one less weapon in their arsenal of legitimacy. Last summer’s World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, threatened to restore some of this respectability.

Those of us in this room who confronted the Soviet-era Anti-Zionist Committee and other stale canards know the lengths to which anti-Semitic movements can hide behind the popular labels of “anti-Zionism”. To those who would disavow any connection to anti-Semitism, we can safely reply: We know it when we see it. My colleagues, from B’nai B’rith and Hadassah to the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, saw it and heard it in Durban. My colleagues at United Nations Watch in Geneva experience it year-round. These international assemblies are political and intellectual feeding tubes to millions around the world, and we must continue our combined efforts to keep out the hate and inject the spirit of tolerance and humanity.

Let me devote a few more moments to irony. At a March 2002 conference in Bucharest, organized by the American Jewish Committee, Latvian Jewish leader Gregory Krupnikov remarked, “There is no state anti-Semitism. Obviously there is some level of public ‘street’ anti-Semitism, although it does not differ from the degree of anti-Semitism that typically exists in Europe.” Fortunately, Latvia has not experienced “the degree of anti-Semitism” that has prevailed in Europe in the weeks since the Bucharest conference.

In conjunction with the annual International Leadership Conference of the American Jewish Committee, my colleagues and I had the opportunity earlier this month to consult with community leaders from six of the successor states, including Russian and Ukraine, and with leaders like Mr. Krupnikov from the communities in Latvia and Lithuania. Each of these activists, for whom the Holocaust and Stalinism are local landmarks, pointed to the ironic situation in which roles have been reversed. While in 1999, most Jewish leaders in the successor states saw a promising peace process in the Middle East and sought assistance with anti-Semitism at home, today they freely mobilize political support for an Israel under assault and consider how they can assist their Western European brethren cope with unchecked violence and hate.

How ironic that Latvia, so long under the yoke of Soviet occupation and the site of the worst kinds of atrocities during the Holocaust, should have been among the few courageous nations in Durban to vocally denounce the anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish draft platform of the World Conference. How ironic that, while France struggles to keep its balance between the fascist super-candidacy of Jean-Marie le Pen and the unbridled attacks on Jews by North African and Muslim gangs, it is Russia whose President – Vladimir Putin – denounces xenophobia and pogroms in his recent State of the Nation address to the Duma. How ironic that it is President Putin who is now pushing the Duma to pass new anti-extremist legislation.

Behind this irony lie decades of hard work by this Commission and many U.S. Government bodies, non-governmental organizations, and by their counterparts in the former Soviet Union. This work is far from complete, and we must not allow the latest Western European eruption of anti-Semitism to make us forget about the very real and ongoing societal undercurrent of anti-Semitism which persists especially in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

We hold these post-Soviet governments accountable on efforts to condition public attitudes through education and public statements, and we challenge them to enact and enforce laws to protect minorities and others. We do not judge their societies by how they found them among the shards of Soviet tyranny, we judge them by their commitment to moving forward.

The 1990 Copenhagen Document of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe commits the parties to “take effective measures, including the adoption, in conformity with their constitutional systems and their international obligations, of such laws as may be necessary, to provide protection against any acts that constitute incitement to violence against persons or groups based on national, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, hostility or hatred, including anti-Semitism…” This is a standard we have applied as a nation again and again.

Incidents, legislation and statements do not tell the full story. The counter-factuals are also instructive: the appeals to anti-Semitism which were not evident during Ukraine’s recent national elections; the relative lack of serious incidents in Russia during last month’s anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. As we hold nations accountable for their failures, we must also recognize their successes.

The status of anti-Semitism cannot only be measured by the number or severity of incidents. It resides in the comfortable privacy of prejudices and whispers, and in the public insinuation of veiled references and calls for order or revolution. In September 1999, the Anti-Defamation League released results of its "Survey on Anti-Semitism and Societal Attitudes in Russia." The poll of 1,528 adults found that 44 percent of Russians hold strong anti-Semitic views. Such studies are vital to assessing the scope of the problem, refining and targeting efforts to counter anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and measuring the progress. The ADL study represents an important baseline for future research in this area.

THE SCOPE OF ANTI-SEMITISM

I have provided, as a separate attachment, a sampling of anti-Semitic activities that occurred in the former Soviet Union over the past year. Many incidents go unreported, or uninvestigated by law enforcement, but these selected items highlight the shape of current trends in the region.

I also wish to submit the summary of a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), detailing anti-Semitism in Russia during 2001. As the ADL summary points out:

It is believed that current Russian leadership's positive attitude toward Jewish life is a key factor helping to increase ethnic and religious tolerance and to improve the acceptance of Jews in the general society. Yet, serious steps against various manifestations of aggressive nationalism have yet to be taken on both the federal and local levels.

Our reports focus on the significant acts of anti-Semitism. As in the United States, many random and minor acts occur in the way of vandalism or insults. Incidents of a more serious nature involve physical harm, organized violence, systematic threats, public demonstrations, or inflammatory remarks by public officials. Enactment and enforcement of appropriate laws must be combined with forceful public condemnation by officials of such acts.

The following examples highlight the nature of recent incidents in the former Soviet Union:

2001

Ø Russia, May: The Duma rejected a motion condemning anti-Semitism and fascism.

Ø Ukraine, July: The Monastery of the Caves, a historic Orthodox church in Kyiv, printed a pamphlet with strong anti-Semitic language.

Ø Russia, July: Arsonists attempted to burn down a synagogue in Kostroma.

Ø Russia, December: Yekaterinberg Prosecutor’s Office charged the local Orthodox diocese of Yekaterinburg with distributing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

2002

Ø Russia, January: David Duke sold his newest book in the Russian Duma.

Ø Ukraine, February: Some 200 people participated in an anti-Semitic demonstration in Lviv.

Ø Belarus, March: Officials approved demolition of a historic synagogue to make way for the construction of apartments.

Ø Russia, April: A homemade explosive charge detonated near the Krasnoyarsk synagogue.

Ø Russia, April: The head of the Jewish community in Ulyanovsk was severely beaten by a radical right-wing thug.

Ø Ukraine, April 13: Fifty youth marched two miles to get to attack the Kyiv synagogue. Groups of youths beat at least two victims, the Head of the Lubavitch Yeshiva and the son of Kyiv Chief Rabbi Moshe-Reuven Asman.

While Russia’s new anti-extremism legislation is a positive development, its recent introduction fails to redress the many instances of political anti-Semitism and racism, whether they occur in parliamentary sessions or through regional legislation. And during the many months and years that the Russian administration and Duma have deliberated on or failed to pass such legislation, the Jewish community and other minority groups have suffered threats, instances of vandalism, and violent physical attacks. In some cases, communities have appealed to municipal and federal authorities, with little success, or the victims have encountered apathy or hostility from police investigating these crimes. In fewer cases have police protection and arrests of perpetrators been forthcoming.

The sources of anti-Semitism differ from country to country. While older Russians retain the anti-Semitism born of communism and the youth have adopted fascist dogma, Ukrainian nationalists have used anti-communist appeals to anti-Semitism. Such variations have not, however, prevented Russian National Unity from gaining a foothold in other successor states.

Josef Zissels, Chairman of the Vaad of Ukraine, has explained the distinction between his country’s approach and that of Russia: While Russians have seen Jews as agents in defeating Russia’s national goal of empire, many Ukrainians see Jews as a key bridge to their own national goal of integrating with the West.

In Armenia, some are using Israel’s close relationship with Turkey to fan the flames of anti-Semitism among Armenia’s younger generation.

RESPONSE TO ANTI-SEMITISM

The nature of anti-Semitism in the Soviet successor states is notably different from Western European manifestations in two respects – the relative absence of a Middle Eastern or North African connection to the violence, and the absence of a clear pattern or motivation.

In a further ironic twist, it is the national political leaders in the former Soviet Union – the historic hotbed of popular anti-Semitism – more than Western Europe who are speaking out strongly against anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Unfortunately, most of Russia’s local and regional leaders have not followed suit.

These ironies in no way minimize the remaining challenges in the former Soviet republics. We need to continue supporting programs that foster tolerance and understanding, public campaigns to lift the cloak of legitimacy from those resorting to anti-Semitism, official condemnations of actions or statements that diminish the humanity of any individual or group, and legal and institutional commitment to this cause.

RUSSIA

In his November 13, 2001, letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the context of discussions to “graduate” Russia from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov wrote: “The fundamental objectives of our policies are to ensure personal freedom, prevent intolerance based on race, religion, and ethnicity, and our migration practices are fully compliant with the international standards… I would like to reaffirm our firm commitment to these principles, which we consider an indispensable condition for Russia’s existence and development as a multiethnic country and the development of a civil society on the basis of generally recognized rules of international law and universal morality.” Our decades-long insistence on human rights and minority protection as the touchstone for integration into the West is beginning to pay off on a national level, and we must ensure that it filters out to the regions as well.

The U.S. Congress most recently reaffirmed this American commitment with the introduction of Senate Resolution 234, “Reiterating the sense of the Senate that religious freedom is a priority of the United States in the bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation, including within the context of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.” It is no coincidence that this Resolution, introduced with 26 additional cosponsors, was originated by Senators Gordon Smith and Hillary Rodham Clinton – both Members of the Helsinki Commission.

As I mentioned previously, Russian President Vladimir Putin included the following call in his April 18 State of the Nation Address to the State Duma:

The growth of extremism poses a serious threat to stability and public security in the country. Above all, I mean those who stage pogroms and beat and kill people under fascist and nationalist slogans and symbols. But the police and public prosecutors often do not have adequate instruments making it possible to bring the organizers and inspirers of such crimes to justice. In many cases only immediate perpetrators stand trial. In point of fact, however, extremist bands act as organized communities of criminals and are, therefore, subject to similar prosecution. A draft bill concerning the struggle with extremism will soon be put before the State Duma.

UKRAINE

As I have noted, the campaigns for the March 31 Ukrainian elections were notably devoid of significant anti-Semitic incidents or appeals. In Kyiv last month, dozens of youth marched across town from a football stadium to the historic Brodsky synagogue, where they beat two members of the Jewish community, shouted anti-Semitic slogans, and smashed windows in the synagogue; police responded with rapid arrests, although they discounted anti-Semitism as a motive.

These and other incidents should be understood within the broader context of a sweeping revival of Jewish life. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, in a December 17 letter to President Bush concerning his own nation’s efforts to be “graduated” from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, stressed the following points:

On my part, I deem it important to underline that during the years of independence our state, perhaps the only one of the post-Soviet countries, not only managed to maintain inter-ethnic peace and tolerance among the religious confessions, but also established conditions for the development of ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of national minorities. This task is one of the major constitutional duties of the state…

The state pays special attention to creation of tolerant relations between representatives of different nationalities and confessions as well as preventing extremism and anti-Semitism. As a result of such a policy, no facts of antagonism on the ground of anti-Semitism nor bias attitude toward members of Jewish public and religious organizations have been reported in the last years. I take this opportunity to inform you of the preparation to the anti-Fascist congress “For a World Without Terrorism, Xenophobia and Chauvinism” to be held in Kyiv on the initiative of influential Jewish organization and under my patronage.

LITHUANIA

As an example of the situation in the Baltic States, I wish to cite from a report delivered at the Bucharest conference by Emanuelis Zingeris, Chairman of the Foundation for Jewish Cultural Heritage in Lithuania and a former leading Member of the Lithuanian Seimas:

Lithuanian intellectuals of the older generation would argue that only the appearance of anti-Semitism exists in their country, and that casual, marginal hatred of Jews has no significance. However, a poll taken two years ago by the leading Lithuanian daily, Lietuvos Rytas, revealed Jews to be among Lithuania's least popular national minorities, surpassed only by Roma. The results showed that despite the increasing availability of information on Jews, typified by the government's highly promoted release of new textbooks with a more in-depth treatment of Jewish history and the Holocaust, some anti-Semitic attitudes still prevail in Lithuania.

At the same time, anti-Semitic stereotypes are slowly fading from the parlance of the educated youth. The language of the mass media has become less crude in the last two or more years, although anti-Semitic content resurfaces with unexpected force in public discussions on the Middle East, particularly in anonymous exchanges on the Internet…

In my view, anti-Semitism has not disappeared – it just has acquired a more latent form. It may appear, for example, in public attitudes and official statements against the restoration of the Vilnius Jewish historical quarter. The surge in anti-Semitic expression that occurs in Internet discussions on the Middle East is remarkable, though.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS

The following points are recommendations to make these post-Soviet societies more open and to cement the gains to date:

- The need to monitor incidents and attitudes, practices and policies, in the successor states has never been so obvious in light of the alarming developments to their west. Monitoring empowers local activists, it compels our diplomats to become experts and advocates in this area, and it reminds foreign governments and societies that these issues are integral to the Western culture they seek to emulate.

- Legislation to counter extremism and racial violence is also gaining support in the region, as evidenced by the new Russian proposal. Religion laws that set up two classes of religion – traditional and non-traditional – or abdicate decision-making authority to local officials give further credence to the notion that the state can decide which religious groups are legitimate and which are non-legitimate.

- Without enforcement of laws on the national and local level, obviously, no legislation can have an impact. This requires active supervision by senior officials, as well as training programs for police, government workers and community leaders in tolerance and in combating hate crimes.

- Without an effective court system, either violators go free or public opinion doubts the fairness of their sentencing. This may be the most neglected facet of efforts to reduce outbreaks of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and to transform post-Soviet societies. If judges cannot become role models, their statements and decisions ultimately have little impact.

- Public education efforts are gaining momentum, particularly in the Baltic States which are teaching children the lessons of the Holocaust, and the United States would do well to redouble support for such efforts. To be truly successful and far-reaching, these efforts must be undertaken at the earliest possible age, but should also encompass opportunities for adult learning.

- The ‘bully pulpit’ is not only available to presidents. Public statements by government leaders at every level are indispensable to motivating society, bureaucracies, and legislators. Official condemnation of anti-Semitism and calls for greater protection of minorities help shape public attitudes and reduce ambiguity.

- American leaders as well have made important public statements. President Bush is now departing for Europe, where he will join non-governmental leaders in Moscow and visit the Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg. Beyond what either President Bush or Putin will say, such meetings constitute statements in themselves. Although American statements – including Congressional letters and resolutions – reflect the values of our society, Russian statements may reflect the values to which that society aspires. These gestures and messages carry great weight.

- Religious leaders must also take responsibility. The Lithuanian Catholic Church condemned anti-Semitism at a March 2000 bishops’ conference, and expressed regret that during the German occupation “a portion of the faithful failed to demonstrate charity to the persecuted Jews, did not grasp any opportunity to defend them, and lacked the determination to influence those who aided the Nazis.” The Russian Jewish Congress has made some progress in bringing together religious leaders of major faith communities in Russia, including the Orthodox Church as well as others not recognized as “traditional” denominations in the 1997 Law on Religion. In March, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow convened an inter-religious panel in Kazan, with the representative of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, the Islamic Mufti, and the Archbishop of Kazan and Tatarstan.

In all of these pursuits, have no doubt that the member agencies of NCSJ and our member communities throughout the United States are already engaged and willing to step forward to share their experience and expertise. Several organizations have major projects underway in the successor states, as well as in Central and Western Europe. Numerous communities in the United States have partnership programs with sister communities in the former Soviet Union.

We can also challenge our Western European allies to apply these approaches to their own societies and to increase assistance to their eastern neighbors in the same regard. Despite the latest outbreak in the West, or perhaps because of it, there may be homegrown European approaches to this dangerous phenomenon. Through assemblies of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), this Commission could pursue discussions along these lines. In any international forum, not only in the OSCE but in the United Nations and related organs, countries must be held to a high standard in their speeches and voting.

I testified in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 5, 2000, on the subject of anti-Semitism, in a hearing chaired by Senator Smith who is with us today and who has proven himself a tireless champion and genuine ally in this cause. In my statement then, I cited a lesson from the late Ambassador Morris Abram, a leader in the American civil rights movement and in so many American, Jewish and international causes – including the Soviet Jewry movement and NCSJ:

Responsible for the famous 1963 “one man, one vote” landmark Supreme Court ruling, Morris Abram maintained that appeals to racism and bigotry are effective only so long as society tolerates it. As America’s opinion-leaders began making clear in the 1960s that racist rhetoric was unacceptable, mainstream politicians and others stopped using it. In much the same way, delivering a strong, public and consistent message to Russian society is the most obvious way for Russian leaders to impact the public attitudes that reward anti-Semitic and xenophobic appeals.

We still have far to go in Russia and the other successor states. But at some point, we must be able to discern whether the policies of our government and civil society are having an impact, and whether the efforts of post-Soviet society are also bearing fruit. Rather than inviting complacency by comparison with the current unrest elsewhere, the real progress in these countries further obligates us to continue outreach and education, cooperation and admonition, recognition and critique. It obligates those societies and their governments as well.