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Hearing Addresses Dramatic Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks Across Europe
Monday, June 17, 2002

By H. Knox Thames,
CSCE Counsel

The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing May 22, 2002 on the continuing wave of anti-Semitic attacks that has swept across Europe this year. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) also participated.

Testifying before the Commission were Shimon Samuels, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris; Mark B. Levin, Executive Director of NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; Alexandra Arriaga, Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA; Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; and Kenneth Jacobson, Director of International Affairs Division for the Anti-Defamation League.

Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing with an urgent appeal to combat increasingly frequent acts of anti-Semitism – including synagogue fire bombings, mob assaults, desecration of cultural property and armed attacks. He detailed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s strong position on anti-Semitism, but voiced dismay that some participating States have not taken appropriate measures to combat acts of violence and incitement.

“Anti-Semitism is not necessarily based on the hatred of the Judaic faith, but on the Jewish people themselves,” Smith said. “Consequently, the resurfacing of these . . . acts of violence is something that cannot be ignored by our European friends or the United States.”

In a submitted statement, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell stated, “The anti-Semitic violence spreading throughout the OSCE region gives cause for deep concern for its scope and viciousness.” Senator Campbell insisted “no longer can these acts of intolerance and violence be viewed as separate occurrences.... [Such] manifestations of anti-Semitism must not be tolerated, period, regardless of the source.”

Senator Voinovich expressed consternation over the increasing number of attacks in Europe. He stated he was “saddened and deeply disturbed by reports of anti-Semitism that have taken place recently in some of the world’s strongest democracies: France, Germany, Belgium.” Senator Voinovich added, “Many of Europe’s synagogues have become targets of arson and Molotov cocktails.”

Senator Clinton added, anti-Semitism “is something for which all of us have to not only be vigilant but prepared to take action.” She urged President Bush to raise the issue during his planned trip to Europe, and expressed hope that the OSCE commitments undertaken by European governments, in reference to anti-Semitism, would be “followed up by action.”

Rep. Cardin, in his opening statement, hoped the hearing would “remind OSCE participating States that they have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to both prosecute those committing such hate crimes and to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence.” Rep. Cardin also expressed his disappointment that European governments had not taken a more aggressive stand.

Dr. Samuels presented chilling testimony on the extent of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and the failure of European governments and the international community to respond effectively. “Every Jewish building in Paris requires protection,” Samuels testified, reading from a January 16, 2002 Le Monde article. “Any child leaving school may be beaten because he is Jewish, only because he is a Jew.”

Among the hundreds of attacks in France just this year, Samuels cited several compelling stories: An eight-year-old girl was wounded by a bullet when a Jewish school bus came under fire in suburban Paris. A rabbi’s car was defaced by graffiti that read “Death to the Jews.” Rather than documenting these incidents as anti-Semitic violence, the French Government identified them as a broken windshield and an act of vandalism, respectively. In effect, there exists what Dr. Samuels called a “black box of denial.” The perpetrators often go unpunished.

Mr. Levin addressed anti-Semitism in the former Soviet states, urging appropriate criticism of countries’ shortcomings and recognition of their successes when it comes to combating anti-Semitism. Enforcing existing laws, using the bully pulpit, outreach to the general public, furthering understanding through education, and encouraging a role for religious leaders are all important steps, Levin testified. He concluded, “It is our hope and it is our expectation that when President Bush meets with President Putin in Moscow. . . he will carry this message.”

Ms. Arriaga testified that Amnesty International strongly condemns the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. “These acts are violations of the most fundamental human rights committed on the basis of an individual’s religion or identity,” she said. Ms. Arriaga made two recommendations. One, President Bush should raise issues of law enforcement accountability and other steps toward combating racist and anti-Semitic attitudes with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the late-May U.S.-Russia summit. Two, Congress should consider lifting the Jackson-Vanik amendment as a means of leveraging discussions.

Rabbi Baker made a compelling statement that further highlighted the severity of anti-Semitism. Like Samuels, Baker outlined three sources of hatred that have converged to create the situation in which Europe now finds itself. They include radicalized Muslims, incited by the scathing coverage of Israel in the Arabic press; the surge in popularity of Europe’s far right wing; and a growing hatred of Israel on Europe’s left wing.

“The image of an Israeli who is frequently portrayed as an aggressive violator of human rights is quickly conflated with the Jew,” Baker testified. Taking this one step further, Baker continued, cartoonists have depicted Israeli leaders with gross physical exaggerations just as the Nazis depicted the Jewish “villain.” Baker observed the need for U.S. political leaders to approach European leaders “in measured and sober tones.” Concluding his testimony, Baker acknowledged that the U.S. has been European Jewry’s strongest ally in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Mr. Jacobson’s testimony framed the issue of anti-Semitism as a national security matter for the United States. Anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiments often go hand-in-hand, he said. Typically, this sort of hatred spreads from one region in the Middle East to another in Europe, in large part, because of anti-Jewish invective spewed by Al Jazeera television, anti-Israel media coverage in France, and trans-ideological Internet propaganda.

Appealing for action, Jacobson recommended that Congress and the OSCE work to place this issue on the international diplomatic agenda. He also suggested the international community convene a conference on anti-Semitism. Finally, anti-bias education can help combat anti-Semitism, Jacobson said.

Commissioners pledged to raise the issue of anti-Semitism at the upcoming OSCE Berlin Parliamentary Assembly meeting in early July. Among the initiatives discussed was the introduction of a free-standing resolution on anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region for consideration in Berlin.

An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses can be found on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site.

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.


Helsinki Commission intern Derek N. Politzer contributed to this article.

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    Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova testified at the hearings of the Helsinki Commission on alleged war crimes of Russia in Ukraine, Venediktova said in a Facebook statement on Thursday. "The Helsinki Commission of the US Congress held a hearing on Russia's war crimes in Ukraine. I testified at the hearings about the horrific atrocities committed by the Russian army on our land: the deliberate bombing of civilian objects, killings and torture, the use of rape as a weapon," Venediktova said. The Helsinki Commission is a US government commission that "promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries," according to its website. Commissioners include US Senate, House of Representatives and executive branch members. The Ukrainian prosecutor general claimed that the Russian army had committed more than 9,800 war crimes in 70 days of war. She added that the unblocking of Mariupol and the end of the occupation of territories would open even more horrific cases for Ukraine to investigate. She said that "the red lining at the hearings were signs of genocide of the Ukrainian people and the prosecution of the main serial war criminal of the 21st century."  "The deportation of our children in order to erase their identity and bring them up as Russians is a direct proof of the plan to destroy Ukraine. The overriding task of the world community is to develop an effective international mechanism of justice and responsibility for Russia's crimes in Ukraine, which will become a tool now and a safeguard for the future," Venediktova said. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko has claimed that Russian forces deported almost 40,000 people from Mariupol to Russia or the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic. Russia also said that it has "evacuated" over one million people to Russian territory since Feb. 24. There is no way to verify the Russian data on evacuations. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that thousands of citizens are being deported to Russia forcibly.

  • Swiss Attacked for Going Easy on Seizing Russian Billions

    The $7.6 billion in Russian assets seized to date by Swiss authorities is “insulting,” outspoken Kremlin critic Bill Browder said at briefing on Russian money in Switzerland.  It’s “a lot of money in absolute terms but Switzerland is one of the main destinations for dirty Russian money,” said Browder. Given the Swiss Bankers Association has said there’s as much as 150 to 200 billion Swiss francs ($202 billion) in Russian assets in the country’s banks “I would almost say it’s slightly insulting,” he said.  Browder, who has also highlighted what he perceives to be Swiss prosecutors’ soft approach to investigating Russian financial crime, called on the U.S. to review its cooperation framework with its Swiss counterparts, during the hearing organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. “Based on my experience, it would lead me to believe the Swiss are knowingly turning their head the other way when it comes to some of the other oligarchs,” said Browder. The Swiss government said a month ago it had blocked 7.5 billion Swiss francs ($8 billion) in Russian assets in the country to date, as it issues sanctions that mirror those imposed by the European Union on those seen as close to Vladimir Putin.  That figure represented a jump of 30% from their previous tally two weeks earlier and Swiss officials say the number will continue to rise as more assets hidden behind shell companies or in the names of associated are painstakingly uncovered.  Switzerland surprised the world in early March by departing from its tradition of neutrality and saying it would fully embrace the European Union measures against Russia.  But critics including Browder contend that the country needs to go much further. Read more: Swiss Hunt for Russian Wealth Criticized Despite $6 Billion Haul Erwin Bolliger, the chief of the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs which is enforcing the sanctions, has tried to explain the gap by pointing out that are plenty of legitimately-held Russian investments in Switzerland. “There is merit in Bill’s suggestion to review the law enforcement relations between the U.S. and Switzerland,” said Mark Pieth, a law professor at the University of Basel and corruption expert, said at the hearing. Up until now, Switzerland’s approach to clamping down on dirty Russian money in the country has shown a “lack of courage,” Pieth said.

  • Officials Detail Russian War Crimes, but Still Weighing ‘Genocide’ Label

    Experts and officials from the U.S. and Ukraine detailed the war crimes being committed by Russia amid its assault on Ukraine at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on May 4, but were less certain about whether those actions constitute genocide. “The State Department has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes across Ukraine based on a careful review of available evidence and information including open source information, but also classified sources,” said U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack. “We saw credible reports of individuals killed execution style with their hands bound, as you mentioned. We saw bodies showing signs of torture, and we heard horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls,” she added.  Van Schaack did not weigh in on whether Russia was committing genecide, despite President Biden applying that label during a speech last month. The U.S. has not made an official determination regarding genocide yet. The State Department has funded and deployed a team of prosecutors, investigators and other professionals to help Ukraine investigate the ongoing crimes, Van Schaack added.  “This team is advising and supporting the office of the prosecutor general as they collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of atrocities with a view towards pursuing criminal accountability,” she said.    Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said her office has seen the most atrocities in the Kyiv region, which the Russian military withdrew from last month to focus on its attacks on the country’s eastern regions.  “We saw numerous civilians shot right on the street near and in their houses, corpses with clear signs of torture. We also discovered a torture chamber with bodies piled on the ground,” she said.  Venediktova noted that her office charged 10 Russian soldiers with war crimes, and was investigating whether the Russian atrocities are genocidal.  “This is just a drop in the ocean of cases that we have,” she said.    Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University who specializes in Central Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, said he believes Russia’s actions fit into the five categories established by the 1948 Genocide Convention.   “In my view all five of these actions have been carried out — now, just to be clear: In order for genocide to have taken place, we don’t need all five, we only need one. But I think it is the case, and terrifyingly so, that all five are in fact the case in Russian occupied Ukraine,”  Snyder said at the hearing.  The five genecidal acts in the 1948 convention are attempting to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including killing members of the group; imposing measures to prevent births from the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm; creating conditions that could bring the destruction of the group; and transferring children by force to another group.  Snyder said Russia has been forcibly moving Ukrainian children to Russia.  “This one is often overlooked, but I think it is quite important. More than 1 million people, according to Russian data, have been deported from Ukraine to Russia and among that million we’re talking about well over 100,000 children and those children in Russia are being deprived of their nationality,” Snyder said.  Russian President Vladimir Putin’s belief that Ukraine does not exist is “pre-genocidal”, Synder argued.  “When Mr. Putin says, as he had said repeatedly, that there is no Ukranian state or no Ukranian nation, scholars of genocide would recognize that as pre-genocidal language. That is when you say a group doesn’t exist, what you’re doing is preparing for its destruction,” he said.

  • Jewish Democratic Lawmakers Unite in Condemnation of Lavrov's Hitler Remark

     All 25 Jewish Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Tuesday issued a rare but sharp joint condemnation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over his comments comparing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Adolf Hitler. "The blatant antisemitism in recent comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is appalling but sadly not surprising. Lavrov, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian regime are doing everything they can to divert attention from their unprovoked, unlawful invasion of Ukraine and the failings of their military in the face of a heroic Ukrainian response," 24 of the 25 Jewish lawmakers said in a joint statement after the Russian foreign minister said that Hitler also 'had Jewish blood', referring to Zelenskyy's Jewish origins, adding that "the wise Jewish people said that the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews." "Defaulting to antisemitic tropes, including blaming the Jews for the Holocaust and using the Holocaust to cover their own war crimes, reflects the gutless depravity of the Russian regime," they continued, adding that "Lavrov’s remarks on Italian TV were an affront to the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, the survivors of the Holocaust, their families and the entire world Jewish community.” Rep. Steve Cohen, who co-chairs the U.S. Helsinki Commission that monitors human rights and international cooperation in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, issued his own statement, where he decried Lavrov's "stooping to the basest antisemitism." The Tennessee Democrat charged that Lavrov and Russia are "clearly disconnected from reality, morality, humanity and sensitivity," adding that "this level of depravity is consistent with the reprehensible, repugnant and reptilian conduct of Putin's government." The statement is the second such rare showing of joint unity amongst the Jewish House Democrats, who rest across the political spectrum, in the past two months. Their comments follow senior Israeli officials, leading U.S. officials and Jewish leaders offering their own rejection of Lavrov's comments. Russia has since doubled down, with its foreign ministry accusing Israel of supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine

  • Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

    Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.”  The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing discussed the findings of the OSCE report, examined evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyzed paths to bring perpetrators to justice.   Related Information Witness Biographies  

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Condemns Lavrov’s Antisemitic Comments

    WASHINGTON—In response to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent antisemitic comments regarding Ukraine’s president and the people of Ukraine more generally, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “In a despicable attempt to justify Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, including well-documented indiscriminate murders of civilians, including children; torture; and rape of women, children and also men, Lavrov stooped to the basest antisemitism by claiming that Hitler had Jewish heritage and President Zelensky, although Jewish, can still be a Nazi and Ukraine a Nazi state. “By outrageously restating the false and offensive tropes of Holocaust denial and claiming that Jews are the worst antisemites—all while Russian forces commit genocide against the Ukrainian people at the behest of Vladimir Putin—Lavrov and the state he represents show that they are clearly disconnected from reality, morality, humanity, and sensitivity, and that they have no problem embracing the very ideology they claim to rebuke so long as it serves their propaganda. “Comparing President Zelensky to Hitler should be shocking. Unfortunately, this level of depravity is consistent with the reprehensible, repugnant, and reptilian conduct of Putin’s government. Such comments are no longer surprising as we witness Putin’s bloody attempt to destroy the people of Ukraine.” Co-Chairman Cohen, in his capacity as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), along with other Helsinki Commission leaders, recently urged the OSCE PA to adopt a declaration by the parliament of Ukraine that recognizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide.

  • Helsinki Commission Regrets Closure of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—On April 28, the OSCE announced that Russia had definitively forced the closure of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, following its veto of the mission’s mandated activities as of April 1. In light of this announcement, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “Moscow’s choice to force the closure of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is only its latest offense against the rules-based international order. The brave monitors and staff who served the mission, in place since 2014, did exactly what they were supposed to do. Despite continual harassment and under constant threat, they reported objectively on ceasefire violations, informing the international community about the brutal reality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The monitors’ clear and continuous reporting allowed the world to draw its own conclusions about the roots of Russia’s aggression. Moscow’s move to force the mission to close only underlines its desire to hide this ugly fact. “As we commend the service of these brave monitors and condemn Russia’s obstruction, we renew our call on Moscow to immediately release all Ukrainian SMM staff members who have been detained in occupied parts of Ukraine. “We also mourn the recent loss of Maryna Fenina, a Ukrainian national serving with the SMM who was killed by Russia’s shelling in Kharkiv on March 1, and we will never forget American paramedic Joseph Stone, who was killed while serving in support of the mission when his vehicle struck a landmine in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine on April 23, 2017.” The SMM was established in 2014 as an unarmed, civilian mission and served as the international community’s eyes and ears on the security and humanitarian situation in the conflict zone. It operated under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine.

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