Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Kenneth Jacobson
Associate National Director - Anti-Defamation League


My name is Ken Jacobson, I am the Associate National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that has worked to expose and counter anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry since 1913. We have developed proactive anti-bias education programs being implemented in Europe today which address precisely the kind of intolerance and hate speech that targets Jews and other minorities in Europe.

We are grateful to the Helsinki Commission, for holding these important hearings and appreciate the opportunity to share some observations and recommendations.

It is wholly appropriate for the Helsinki Commission to examine this issue. Not just because the OSCE was the first leading international body to formally recognize and condemn the problem of anti-Semitism in 1990; not just on humanitarian grounds; but as a matter of American national security as well. As peoples who value pluralism, religious freedom, and tolerance, Americans, and Jews have been the targets of choice for haters and extremists. Our own observations have been that, where Jews are scapegoated and demonized, incendiary anti-American rhetoric flourishes as well.

Over the past 20 months we have grown increasingly alarmed by a wave of anti-Semitic attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe. In France, Belgium, Great Britain and elsewhere, we have witnessed violence against synagogues, Jewish schools, cemeteries, as well as Jewish-owned businesses, and physical attacks on identifiable Jews on the street. Until recently, much of Europe's leadership has not taken the attacks seriously. In France, where the problem is most acute, political leaders viewed such incidents as examples of “hooliganism” by some violent Muslim immigrant youth, or as a logical and understandable spillover of Middle East tensions. Only in recent weeks have these incidents been labeled as hate crimes and condemned by leaders. Yet, even now, the judicial system has treated those perpetrators that have been apprehended far too leniently.

The global anti-Semitism that we speak of is old in the sense that anti-Semitism around the globe is not a new phenomenon. These manifestations of anti-Semitism are not novel -- the elements -- scapegoating of Jews for societies' problems; the impact of religious extremism; the use of conspiracy theories to blame the Jews for everything are all too familiar.

What are new are the manifestations of anti-Semitism which correspond to globalism, a world of greater economic, political, technological, and ideological interaction and interdependence. The most obvious example of this and a warning for the future was the way Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahatir explained his nation's economic collapse during the Asian economic bust of the late 90's. In a country devoid of Jews, Mahatir, rather than trying to explain the complicated interaction of a global economy which could enrich and impoverish nations in disparate places, blamed international Jewish currency dealers. The mother of conspiracy theories -- secret Jewish control of the world -- was shown to be alive and well. The warning flag was up: the more global the economy, the more likely that distant nations would be affected by decisions made thousands of miles away -- giving demagogues the opportunity to divert attention from their own failures to simplistic, false, but emotionally satisfying canard that it is all the Jews' fault.

Global anti-Semitism has other characteristics. One is the tendency to transport hatred from one region to another. In the Middle East, a surge of Arab and Islamic anti-Semitic propaganda stirred up millions against Jews. This anti-Semitism affects the willingness of individuals to commit suicidal acts of terror and of nations to acquire non-conventional weapons to threaten America’s and Israel's very existence.

Through the magic of television, the incitement in the Middle East resonates with millions of Muslims in Western Europe. In France, in particular, the Jews have been the target of more incidents this year than in any year since the Holocaust, many committed by Muslim residents in France influenced by the tub-thumping anti-Semitism of Al-Jazeera television out of Qatar and reinforced by biased, anti-Israel media coverage within France.

The Internet has also become a useful vehicle, not only for transnational but also for transideological anti-Semitism. This has been in evidence in events surrounding September 11. The conspiracy theory that the Mossad was behind the attack, based on an absurd rumor that 4,000 Jews stayed home from work at the World Trade Center, has made the rounds through the Internet crossing borders as well as ideologies. White supremacist groups in the U.S., prone to hate all non-white non-Christians, suddenly find common ground with Moslem anti-Semites in spreading this story. These partnerships of convenience, partnerships of hate present new challenges and dangers.

These alliances of hate were on display at the World Conference Against Racism last August in Durban, South Africa. It was not only that anti-Semites worldwide communicated through the Internet prior to the Conference and worked together at the Conference, but they were also able to benefit from the inaction of human rights groups from around the world gathered at Durban. Just as it was possible to establish conditions to protect human rights, Durban showed how a new “violence of silence” – that it groups supposedly committed to justice who for political or other reasons turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism lend a semblance of legitimacy to haters and anti-Semites.

Similarly, the transmutation of Holocaust denial, that peculiarly western form of anti-Semitism, into a Middle Eastern weapon against the Jews and Israel is one more indicator of this new global anti-Semitism. In the current Middle East atmosphere of hate, the Holocaust is no longer seen by the Arabs as a real event which was used to foist Israel on the Arabs to soothe European guilt, but as a fiction created by Jews to win support for a Jewish state.

Responses to Anti-Semitism and Bigotry
The difference between a tolerant and an uncivil society does not lie in the biases within the hearts of its people, but in the public reaction of its leaders to manifestations of hate and bigotry. In our own country, as survivors were still being rescued from ground zero, President Bush issued a strong call against stereotyping and hate against our neighbors who are Arabs, Muslims and Middle Eastern looking. Similarly, the first ad published by the Anti-Defamation League after 9/11 was a call against stereotyping of Muslims urging Americans not to “fight hatred with hatred.” ADL has spoken out unequivocally against those extremists who resort to violence, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Sadly, some European leaders have rationalized anti-Jewish attitudes and even violent attacks against Jews as nothing more than a sign of popular frustration with events in the Middle East -- something to be expected, even understandable, under the circumstances.

We have seen comparisons made to the imagery and atmosphere in Europe of the 1930’s. While some of the imagery is in fact the same, it is clear that the world has changed dramatically since the 1930's. While there are some changes in anti-Semitic attitudes and positive efforts by governments and the Vatican, the most meaningful difference is the existence of mechanisms to combat and deal with manifestations of anti-Semitism in today's world. But as the Durban conference demonstrated, the existence of human rights mechanisms alone is not enough. The utility of these mechanisms will rise or fall on the assertion of responsible moral leadership that bodies like the Congress and the CSCE are uniquely positioned to provide.

We know from our own experience that we cannot police hearts and minds and that bigotry cannot be legislated out of existence. We cannot outlaw hate but we can rally nations around a credo of tolerance. We can promote and reward morally responsible action from government leaders and punish failures.

Mr. Chairman, the CSCE has played a key role in charting a course for combating anti-Semitism over the years -- condemning anti-Semitism, 8 years before the UN would even acknowledge anti-Semitism as a form of racism. Now is an important time to reinvigorate the follow up on this agenda among OSCE member states.

1. No Business as Usual. Congress and the CSCE can be a driving force in placing the issue of anti-Semitism squarely on the international diplomatic agenda to be raised by Presidents and cabinet secretaries in all bilateral fora. To give just one example, the League called on participants in UNESCO's 164th Executive Board Session, convening in Paris as we speak, to seize the opportunity to condemn anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere.
2. Convene a “real” conference on anti-Semitism. While it is well established that the UN’s World Conference Against Racism served as a forum for anti-Semitism, let the OSCE use its good offices to convene a conference on anti-Semitism to expose its danger and report on the performance of governments in responding. The CSCE has been strong in this regard, and hearings such as this one that you have convened on Capitol Hill are so important. Building on this and other efforts, now would be an important time to follow up with initiatives centered in Europe and to seek ways to replicate this important activity in parliaments of OSCE member nations. The Anti-Defamation League stands ready to be of assistance with such efforts.

3. Anti-Bias Education is an essential building block of combating hatred. Our experience has exposed a broad lack of understanding of what distinguishes legitimate political criticism of Israel from the stereotyping which can foment hatred and anti-Semitism. OSCE is a perfect mechanism through which one could promote educational best practices against intolerance. The ADL currently partners with the European Union and others for Peer Training and other anti-bias education programs. The recent international initiative on Holocaust education provides an interesting model as well.

Mr. Chairman, one of the essential lessons of the Holocaust is that words lead to murder; that the tolerating of bigotry and anti-Semitism can lead to genocide. We never expected in the 21st century, after the world bore witness to the Holocaust that we would have to defend basic notions of freedom and tolerance which we hoped would distinguish this century from the last.

While the last century witnessed the most heinous results of bigotry unchecked, fortunately, we also have witnessed in our lifetime powerful examples of how strong US leadership has brought about dramatic change. When Presidents, Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State, and Members of Congress forced issues like religious freedom onto the diplomatic agenda, we witnessed the release of Soviet Refuseniks, the spread of other freedoms across the Former Soviet Union, and, ultimately, the fall of that regime. The US must carry on this tradition -- armed with the clear knowledge that we can make a difference.

Anti-Semitism and bigotry, if allowed to flourish, could become one of the most destructive forces unleashed in this new century. History has shown us where this can lead. Durban and other forums showed that this virus is alive and well and that civil society and human rights mechanisms alone are not enough. Combating it right now must not be the task only of non-governmental organizations like the Anti-Defamation League.

America is fighting terrorism by embracing the democratic ideals that our enemies loathe. It is our instinct, our tradition, to fight darkness with light. For the sake of peace and a stable, sane world, we must respond to the silence of Durban, and all the past and future “Durbans” with unequivocal action by responsible governments everywhere.