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Parliamentary Forum Launches Process to Confront Anti-Semitism
Wednesday, December 18, 2002

By Donald B. Kursch,
CSCE Senior Advisor

The United States Helsinki Commission hosted an inter-Parliamentary Forum December 10, 2002 on Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region. The meeting, held in conjunction with the observance of International Human Rights Day, strengthened the partnership between members of the U.S. and German delegations which began earlier this year in Berlin during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA).

This process was launched in response to shared U.S. and German concerns with the upsurge in anti-Semitism in many parts of the 55-nation OSCE region and is designed to encourage parliaments to take decisive actions to counter this disturbing trend. A letter of intent outlining concrete steps to be pursued was signed at the conclusion of the Forum.

Chairing the meeting jointly were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag Member Professor Gert Weisskirchen of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Group. Helsinki Commission Members Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated, with Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) in attendance. Other German Bundestag participants were Dietmar Nietan of the SPD and Markus Löning of the Liberal Party (FDP). Senator Jerahmiel Grafstein (Liberal Party) of the Senate of Canada also took part in the Forum.

In his opening statement, Rep. Smith, who led the U.S. Delegation to Berlin, reaffirmed the principles that were set out in a U.S.-sponsored resolution from the Berlin OSCE PA meeting that anti-Semitism must have no place in the 21st century and that parliaments should “take concrete steps to make this vision a reality.” He expressed the hope that representatives of other parliaments from the OSCE participating States would join this process.

Prof. Weisskirchen defined anti-Semitism as a unique kind of racism. He stressed that the threat of ethnic hatred is an affront to the principles of democracy. Weisskirchen suggested that programs with long-term goals would be most effective at combating anti-Semitism and that focusing “on the education, both formal and informal, and on the media and on religion” are vital parts of a preventive strategy.

Rep. Cardin spoke to two points raised in the letter of intent. The first was the importance of education as a tool of erasing ignorance and promoting tolerance. The second was the establishment of a “coalition of the willing” to address the rise of anti-Semitic propaganda in the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Egypt. He proposed a parliamentary dialogue with these countries to deal with this problem. Rep. Hastings noted that in his home state of Florida a 1400 percent increase in anti-Semitism occurred this past year and that much of this increase was attributed to people under 21 years of age.

Mr. Nietan spoke from the perspective of a member of the younger generation of parliamentarians in the German Bundestag. Like his colleagues, he emphasized youth education as a crucial step in fighting discrimination. Mr. Löning emphasized two points: the need for instilling respect for other peoples, especially minorities, and creating the ability to “deal with the identity of others on an open and fair basis.”

Senator Grafstein noted a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada pointing out that there had been four arson attacks on synagogues during the past year, a number greater than at any time in his country’s history. He underscored his strong support for complementary parliamentary initiatives process and his determination to have the Canadian Parliament adopt a resolution he has introduced condemning anti-Semitism.

Three European and three American expert witnesses shared their views and recommendations with the parliamentarians. The first witness was Juliane Danker-Wetzel from the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technical University in Berlin. She tied the rise of anti-Semitic acts in the European Union states to the recent conflict in the Middle East. Danker-Wetzel pointed to the Internet as an important conduit for disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. She then highlighted how the Arab-Israeli conflict and criticism of Israel is often linked to anti-Semitic attitudes.

Ken Jacobson, Associate National Director of the Anti Defamation League began by suggesting the OSCE as an “ideal forum for meaningful action.” He noted a rise in the incidences of hate propaganda, citing the “big lie” which holds that Jews were responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He concluded with ten recommendations for fighting the virus of anti-Semitism, including increased anti-Israel bias and Holocaust awareness education programs, improved monitoring instruments and training for law enforcement and military personnel. Jacobson also recommended that the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 2003 be utilized for a special meeting to stress Holocaust education.

Dr. Hanno Loewy, Founder of the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt, argued that the most serious threat of anti-Semitism in Europe derives from the conflicts and discontent that exist in a post-colonial world. He cited as evidence, the large immigrant populations in Europe, who brought with them anti-Semitic beliefs. Loewy recommended that European countries establish legal structures regarding education, tax collection and access to public funds for Europeans of Islamic faith comparable to those that Christians and Jews already have.

Ambassador Alfred Moses, former President of the American Jewish Committee, asserted that modern manifestations of hatred towards Jews are rooted in a tradition of anti-Semitism that has plagued Europe for centuries. He argued that anti-Semitism must be defined more broadly than a “purely political phenomenon.” As such, he recommended that the United States and Germany use their influence in organizations such as the OSCE, NATO and the EU to raise anti-Semitism as a top priority to be addressed at the highest levels.

Rabbi Israel Singer, President of the World Jewish Congress, highlighted the problem of cynicism and indifference on issues of anti-Semitism by legislators. He deplored how Holocaust restitution efforts were used by some Europeans to justify anti-Semitic attitudes, an increased tendency by European politicians to use anti-Semitic nuances to appeal to certain constituencies, and the lack of balance in the positions of certain international institutions, such as the World Council of Churches, to developments in the Middle East.

The final panelist, Dr. Arkadi Vaksberg, Deputy Head of the Moscow PEN Center, recommended that a uniform legal structure be established across Europe and Russia for dealing with issues of human rights. He supported a clear and concrete definition of anti-Semitic acts, as well as creating an international commission to monitor and fight global anti-Semitism on a global basis.

Rep. Smith and Prof. Weisskirchen, concluded the Forum by signing a “Letter of Intent” that affirms a commitment to work together closely to fight anti-Semitism and encourage their colleagues in the U.S. Congress, German Bundestag, and in the parliamentary legislative bodies of other OSCE participating States, to adopt an action plan of concrete measures to counter anti-Semitic actions and attitudes. Recommended measures include:

  • the adoption of parliamentary resolutions condemning anti-Semitism; the swift, forceful and public denunciation by parliamentarians of anti-Semitic acts;
  • the enactment and vigorous enforcement of appropriate criminal legislation to punish anti-Semitic actions;
  • the promotion of educational efforts among younger persons to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes; and
  • the creation of an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly-based “coalition of the willing” among OSCE parliamentarians to address anti-Semitic propaganda that appears to be increasing rapidly in a number of countries designated as OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation.

The signatories pledged to meet again in conjunction with the February 2003 Winter Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna to evaluate progress, seek active support from other parliamentarians and determine how the July 2003 Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to be held in Rotterdam can be best utilized to combat anti-Semitism.

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.

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    In August 1975, the heads of state or government of 35 countries – the Soviet Union and all of Europe except Albania, plus the United States and Canada – held a historic summit in Helsinki, Finland, where they signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This document is known as the Helsinki Final Act or the Helsinki Accords. The Conference, known as the CSCE, continued with follow-up meetings and is today institutionalized as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria. Learn more about the signature of the Helsinki Final Act; the role that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe played during the Cold War; how the Helsinki Process successfully adapted to the post-Cold War environment of the 1990s; and how today's OSCE can and does contribute to regional security, now and in the future.

  • European Energy Security Post-Russia

    Russia is weaponizing energy to prolong its unlawful invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the sanctions that Europe and the United States have put in place have not been enough to curb Russian aggression thus far and the European Union pays Russia almost a billion euros a day for energy resources—mostly gas— that fund the Russian war machine.  Germany, in particular, has struggled to move away from its dependence on Russian gas. At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany imported 55 percent of its gas from Russia. As of June 2022, Russian gas imports had decreased to 35 percent, with a goal to decrease to 10 percent by 2024, but progress is slow and buying any energy from Russia means that Germany continues to fund their unlawful invasion. Dr. Benjamin Schmitt, Research Associate at Harvard University and Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, pointed to the resurgence of Ostpolitik, a German diplomatic theory which seeks to build relationships and spread good governance through trade. First introduced in the Cold War era, Ostpolitik was put into action once more in the early 2000s by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who became infamous for lobbying for Kremlin-backed projects in office and for sitting on the board of the Russian state-owned energy company, Gazprom, after leaving office. However, Russia attempted to leverage such projects, including the Nord Stream 1 project and its ultimately bankrupted predecessor, Nord Stream 2, to increase the vulnerability of Western Europe toward Russia. According to Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, domestic political will exists in Germany to diversify energy sources, even if most are wary of making those changes immediately. German polling shows that one-third of Germans are willing to cut off Russian gas immediately, while two-thirds would prefer a slow gradual decrease in gas. Dr. Stelzenmüller explained that if Germany were to immediately cut off Russian gas supplies, it is likely that a recession would affect not only Germany, but also many surrounding Eastern European countries, most of which have less capacity to manage a recession. She stated, “Much of [Germany’s] manufacturing supply chains go deep into Eastern Europe. So, a recession in Germany would absolutely produce a massive, and perhaps worse, recession in our neighboring economies.”  Any actions taken against Russia should ensure that sanctions hit Russia harder than those countries imposing the sanctions. Mr. Yuriy Vitrenko, CEO of Naftogaz Ukraine, and Dr. Schmitt also emphasized the importance of the following recommendations outlined in the REPowerEU plan, the European Commission’s plan to make Europe independent from Russian energy before 2030, and the International Working Group on Russia Sanctions Energy Roadmap: Full European/US embargos on Russian gas. Creation of a special escrow account that will hold net proceeds due to Russia until the Kremlin ceases all hostilities. Diversification of energy dependance away from Russia through energy diplomacy that identifies other potential suppliers, like Qatar. Funding and construction of energy infrastructure around Europe. Termination of Gazprom ownership of all critical energy infrastructure in Europe. Designation of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, which would automatically trigger secondary sanctions on any country that imports Russian goods. Sanctioning of all Russian banks. Strengthening of Ukrainian capacity to participate in the energy sector through the creation of modern energy infrastructure during the post-war reconstruction period. Pass the Stop Helping America’s Malign Enemies (SHAME) Act, banning former U.S. government officials from seeking employment by Russian state-owned-enterprises, or Schroederization. Related Information Witness Biographies

  • European Energy Security Focus of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: EUROPEAN ENERGY SECURITY POST-RUSSIA Tuesday, June 7, 2022 2:30 p.m. Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission The United States and European allies have largely cut Russia out of the global economy following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. However, given European reliance on Russian natural gas and oil, sweeping energy sanctions have lagged. The European Union spends nearly a billion euros a day on Russian energy, and several EU Member States are struggling to wean themselves off Russian resources in order to implement a full embargo. This hearing will examine plans to create a Europe that is wholly free from Russian oil and gas. Witnesses will discuss the importance of a robust energy embargo to starving the Russian war machine; options to ensure that Ukraine’s energy needs are met; alternative sources of energy for Europe; and the perspective of Germany, which plays an outsize role as the most powerful economy in Europe and a primary consumer of Russian natural resources. The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Yuriy Vitrenko, CEO, Naftogaz Ukraine Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution Benjamin Schmitt, Research Associate, Harvard University; Senior Fellow, Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest May 2022

  • 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.

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest April 2022

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