By Ryn Hintz, Paulina Kanburiyan, and Worth Talley, Max Kampelman Fellows,
and Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE
On February 7 – 8, 2022, the OSCE’s Polish Chair-in-Office organized a high-level conference in Warsaw on Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region with the support of OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR). During the event, government officials, experts, civil society organizations, and the private sector underscored the ongoing threat that anti-Semitism poses not only to Jewish communities, but to democracy everywhere, and the shared responsibility to fight it.
In a series of exchanges with experts over two days, more than 100 participants from over 25 countries unilaterally condemned anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, discriminatory prohibition of religious practices, and other manifestations of prejudice against the Jewish community. They also discussed innovative history education, youth engagement, and legislative responses to foster Jewish life.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, who also serves as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance, opened the event by underscoring the need for sustained, coordinated action to end the pervasive anti-Semitism plaguing the OSCE region.
“Although recalling the Holocaust is painful, it seems as if we have not fully learned our lesson,” he said.
Law Enforcement: A Partner in Combating Hate Speech and Scapegoating
OSCE Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism Rabbi Andrew Baker led a session where panelists highlighted the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech, scapegoating, and conspiracy theories since the onset of the global pandemic. Participating States then shared effective national policies and strategies, including best practices of partnering with law enforcement.
Addressing Anti-Semitism Online: A Shared Responsibility
OSCE Advisor on Combating Anti-Semitism Mikolaj Wrzecionkowski moderated a discussion on steps the private sector, civil societies and governments can take to combat the spread of anti-Semitism online, including actively challenging anti-Semitic algorithms and hashtags, appointing points of contact to address concerns about anti-Semitic content, and promoting educational initiatives among young people, educators, and companies to increase media literacy. The United Kingdom’s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Rt. Honorable Lord Eric Pickles, again underscored the importance of joint action.
“At a time of distortion and contempt for our fellow human beings, we need to be able to see our own faces in the faces of strangers,” he stated.
Beyond Combatting Anti-Semitism: The Need to Actively Foster Jewish Life
Dr. Felix Klein, Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism, led a discussion on the challenges and successes of states, cities, and societies in fostering vibrant Jewish communities to both resist the spread of anti-Semitism and uplift Jewish history, culture, and tradition. Panelists shared examples of initiatives to restore cemeteries and monuments, open museums, and compile educational and cultural resources online.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, illustrated the interconnectivity between fostering Jewish life and democracy by discussing recent legislative backlash against Jewish religious practices like circumcision and kosher preparation of meals, further stressing that regulations on these practices must not be prohibitive and should be formed in collaboration with Jewish communities.
The Centrality of Education to Address Anti-Semitism and Anti-Roma Discrimination
A session moderated by Kishan Manocha, ODIHR’s Head of the Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department, highlighted the importance of new and innovative education initiatives to address root causes of anti-Semitism and anti-Roma discrimination. Panelists highlighted the need for cross-cultural exposure to combat anti-Semitic and anti-Roma attitudes and build greater connections between those inside and outside Jewish and Roma communities. Policymakers noted the ability to use interactive and digital tools to address histories of discrimination, related not only to the Holocaust but also to Jewish history and contributions to culture and the world.
Despite advancements, participants acknowledged that challenges remain: online courses suffer from low completion rates and some curricula address the subject of anti-Roma discrimination only tangentially. Panelists agreed that addressing anti-Roma discrimination also requires a holistic, inter-curricular approach that builds upon knowledge both of the genocide of Roma and Sinti, and of their histories and cultures.
To close the conference, Plenipotentiary of Poland’s Ministry Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Paweł Kotowski called on participants to continue their important work to defeat anti-Semitism and anti-Roma discrimination.