By H. Knox Thames
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held an historic international conference in Vienna, Austria on June 19-20 to discuss anti-Semitism within the 55 participating States. While the OSCE states have addressed anti-Semitism in the past, the Vienna Conference represented the first OSCE event specifically devoted to anti-Semitism.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (N-04J) led the United States delegation. Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who currently serves as a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was also part of the U.S. delegation. Public members of the delegation were: Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee; Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League; Cheryl Halpern, National Republican Jewish Coalition; Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Mark Levin, NCSJ; and, Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith. U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Stephan M. Minikes, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ambassador Randolph Bell, also participated.
The personal representative of the Dutch OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ambassador Daan Everts, opened the meeting expressing dismay that in the year 2003 it was necessary to hold such a conference, but “we would be amiss not to recognize that indeed the necessity still exists.” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy declared “anti-Semitism is not a part of [Europe’s] future. This is why this Conference is so important, and I believe it will have a strong follow-up.” Former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Holocaust survivor, cited free societies as an essential element in combating anti-Semitism. The European Union statement, given by Greece, noted that anti-Semitism and racism are “interrelated phenomena,” but also stated “anti-Semitism is a painful part of our history and for that requires certain specific approaches.”
Mayor Giuliani began his remarks to the opening plenary with a letter from President Bush to conference participants. Citing his visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, the President recalled the “inhumanity and brutality that befell Europe only six decades ago” and stressed that “every nation has a responsibility to confront and denounce anti-Semitism and the violence it causes. Governments have an obligation to ensure that anti-Semitism is excluded from school textbooks, official statements, official television programming, and official publications.”
Many OSCE participating States assembled special delegations for the conference. The German delegation included Gert Weisskirchen, member of the German parliament and a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Claudia Roth, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Policy and Humanitarian Aid. The Germans called for energetic actions by all the participating States to deal with anti-Semitism and stressed the need for appropriate laws, vigorous law enforcement and enhanced educational efforts to promote tolerance. Mr. Weisskirchen stressed that anti-Semitism was a very special form of bigotry that had haunted European history for generations and therefore demanded specific responses. In this spirit, Germany offered to host a follow-up OSCE conference in June 2004 focusing exclusively on combating anti-Semitism that would assess the progress of initiatives emerging from the Vienna Conference.
The French delegation was led by Michel Voisin of the National Assembly, and included the President of the Consistoire Central Israelite de France, Jean Kahn, and representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Office of Youth Affairs, National Education and Research. The French acknowledged with great regret the marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred in France during the past two years. In response, France had passed new laws substantially increasing penalties for violent “hate crimes,” stepped up law enforcement and was in the process of revising school curricula.
The work of the conference was organized under several focused sessions: “Legislative, Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement”; “Role of Governments in Civil Society in Promoting Tolerance”; “Education”; and, “Information and Awareness-Raising: the Role of the Media in Conveying and Countering Prejudice.”
Mayor Giuliani noted the fact that the conference was being held in the same building where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. “It’s hard to believe that we’re discussing this topic so many years later and after so many lessons of history have not been learned; and I am very hopeful that rather than just discussing anti-Semitism, we are actually going to do something about it, and take action.”
Giuliani, drawing on his law enforcement background and municipal leadership, enumerated eight steps to fight anti-Semitism: 1) compile hate crime statistics in a uniform fashion; 2) encourage all participating States to pass hate crime legislation; 3) establish regular meetings to analyze the data and an annual meeting to examine the implementation of measures to combat anti-Semitism; 4) set up educational programs in all the participating States about anti-Semitism; 5) discipline political debate so that disagreements over Israel and Palestine do not slip into a demonizing attack on the Jewish people; 6) refute hate-filled lies at an early stage; 7) remember the Holocaust accurately and resist any revisionist attempt to downplay its significance; and 8) set up groups to respond to anti-Semitic acts that include members of Islamic communities and other communities.
Commissioner Hastings identified a “three-fold role” governments can play in “combating anti-Semitic bigotry, as well as in nurturing tolerance.” First, elected leaders must “forthrightly denounce acts of anti-Semitism, so as to avoid the perception of silent support.” He identified law enforcement as the second crucial factor in fighting intolerance. Finally, Hastings noted that while “public denunciations and spirited law enforcement” are essential components to any strategy to combat anti-Semitism, they “must work in tandem with education.” He concluded, “if we are to see the growth of tolerance in our societies, all governments should promote the creation of educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people and to increase Holocaust awareness programs.”
Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith, who served as Vice Chair of the U.S. delegation to the Vienna Conference, highlighted how a “comprehensive statistical database for tracking and comparing the frequency of incidents in the OSCE region does not exist, [and] the fragmentary information we do have is indicative of the serious challenge we have.” In addition to denouncing anti-Semitic acts, “we must educate a new generation about the perils of anti-Semitism and racism so that the terrible experiences of the 20th century are not repeated,” said Smith. “This is clearly a major task that requires a substantial and sustained commitment. The resources of institutions with special expertise such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum must be fully utilized.”
In his closing statement Giuliani stressed that anti-Semitism “has its own history, it has a pernicious and distinct history from many prejudicial forms of bias that we deal with, and therefore singular focus on that problem and reversing it can be a way in which both Europe and America can really enter the modern world.” He enthusiastically welcomed the offer by the German delegation to hold a follow-up conference on anti-Semitism, in Berlin in June 2004. Upon their return to Washington, Giuliani and Smith briefed Secretary Powell on the efforts of the U.S. delegation in Vienna and the importance of building upon the work of the Conference at the parliamentary and governmental levels.
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.