By Ronald McNamara
The Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA) convened its second major conference of parliamentarians and experts in Ottawa, Canada, in early November, building on the work begun at its inaugural session held in London in February 2009.
Legislators from nearly 50 countries participated in this year’s conference, which was opened by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who delivered a forthright statement of Canadian support for the State of Israel and determination to confront anti-Semitism. Citing troubling trends in the growth of anti-Semitism, Harper observed: “Harnessing disparate anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.”
Ranking Minority Commissioner Christopher H. Smith, a member of the ICCA Steering Committee, played an active role in the Ottawa Conference, contributing to the drafting of the concluding document, the Ottawa Protocol. The meeting attracted participants from six continents, including leaders from Africa and Asia. In an address Smith discussed troubling trends within the OSCE region, including developments in North America, such as the plot to bomb synagogues and other Jewish institutions in the United States. “Anti-Semitism is much more than a Jewish issue – it is a human rights issue, and should be of direct concern…. Anti-Semitism is a threat to everyone,” remarked Smith. “All of us here recognize that anti-Semitism is a unique evil, we know it is a distinct form of intolerance, the oldest form of religious bigotry, and a disease of the heart…so we take every single anti-Semitic incident seriously,” he stressed in urging zero tolerance.
Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel delivered keynote remarks on the eve of the opening of the conference expressing deep concern over the current climate of hate and Holocaust denial propagated by the leader of Iran. Wiesel somberly observed, “since 1945, I have not been as afraid as I am now.” Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, a former Attorney General, was instrumental in securing agreement for the convening of the Ottawa conference. “As it has been said, ‘while it may begin with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews.’ We ignore anti-Semitism at our peril,” Cotler warned.
The Ottawa Conference was organized under the auspices of Canada’s Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Several government ministers participated in the well-attended event along with other members of Canada’s parliament. Parallel sessions were held for parliamentarians with a distinct program for NGO representatives, with the two brought together for a concluding session.
Commissioner Smith chaired the working group on “Policing, Prosecution and Legal Remedies” featuring contributions from several experts, including Ken Stern of the American Jewish Committee. Other sessions were: Old and New Anti-Semitism; Hate on the Internet; Fighting Anti-Semitism from Within Parliament; State-Sanctioned and State-Backed Anti-Semitism; and Anti-Semitism on Campus.
Other ICCA Steering Committee members in Ottawa were: Minister Yuli Edelstein (Israel), John Mann (UK), former Bundestag member Gert Weisskirchen (Germany), Emanuelis Zingeris (Lithuania) and Fiamma Nirenstein (Italy). Smith conveyed greetings to the conference on behalf of OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Petros Efthymiou of Greece. The Assembly has served as an important vehicle for mobilizing parliamentarians to address anti-Semitism. Smith sponsored the first resolution on combating anti-Semitism, at the Assembly’s 2002 meeting in Berlin, in response to a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. Commission co-chairs Senator Benjamin L. Cardin and Representative Alcee L. Hastings have likewise played an active role in drawing attention to anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of intolerance.
In addition to scores of American activists and academics at the Ottawa Conference, Hannah Rosenthal, U.S. Special Envoy and Head of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism participated as well as Rabbi Andrew Baker, OSCE Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism.
The Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA) brings together parliamentarians from around the world to lead the fight against resurgent global anti-Semitism. Its principal purpose is to share knowledge, experience, best practices, and recommendations, encouraging their dissemination in an attempt to deal more effectively with contemporary anti-Semitism.
The Ottawa Protocol reiterates the importance that OSCE participating States fully implement provisions of the Berlin Declaration, including their commitment to collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about anti-Semitic incidents and crimes. The document also encourages countries throughout the world to establish mechanisms for reporting and monitoring on domestic and international anti-Semitism, along the lines of the “Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2010” introduced by Smith in the U.S. Congress. The protocol urges the incoming OSCE Chair, Lithuania, to make implementation of related OSCE commitments a priority during 2011 and calls for the reappointment of the Personal Representatives to assist in this work.