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OSCE at “Critical Point” in Fight against Anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON – On May 9, 2006, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The briefing titled “Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education” was chaired by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). 

Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  A French Jew, Halimi was kidnapped and gruesomely tortured to death earlier this year because of his faith.  “His tragedy made brutally clear that Jews are still attacked because they are Jews, and that our work to eradicate all forms of anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms and manifestations is far from done,” said Smith.  Because of incidents like this, Rep. Smith cited his request for approximately $200,000 in appropriations to support OSCE anti-Semitism activities.   

The Helsinki Commission leadership has worked to build a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress to launch a series of initiatives at home and abroad.  The efforts to bring attention to troubling trends of rising anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region have been the catalyst elevating the issue of anti-Semitism on the agenda of the 55-nation organization.   The ongoing work of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the focus of the Capitol Hill briefing, is part of a broader plan to address anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, including hatred aimed at Muslims, Christians, and others.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.   

“Communities within the OSCE region have turned from tranquil to chaotic in an instant . . . by a single hate crime,” noted Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes.  Goldenberg stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  ODIHR and Goldenberg have successfully implemented the program in Spain, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine, and hope to conduct additional trainings if resources permit.  ODIHR also issued a report on “Combating Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region: An Overview of Statistics, Legislation, and National Initiatives,” based on information submitted by participating States about statistics, legislation, and national initiatives to combat hate crimes.

Dr. Kathrin Meyer, ODIHR Advisor on Anti-Semitism Issues, presented ODIHR developed documents for Holocaust education, such as “Education on the Holocaust and on Anti-Semitism: An Overview and Analysis of Educational Approaches.” The book provides an overview of current teaching on the Holocaust in the OSCE region, highlighting good practices and recommending areas to improve.  It also addresses the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom.

“The ODIHR was tasked to disseminate best practices and to assist the states to implement these commitments,” said Dr. Meyer.  These guidelines will assist OSCE participating States in meeting their commitment “to promote educational programs to combat anti-Semitism, to promote the remembrance of and education on the Holocaust, and to promote respect for all ethnic and religious groups.”

On the second panel, Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, praised the serious and substantive work of the OSCE.  “There has been a remarkable set of achievements in getting the OSCE to address [anti-Semitism,] and to address it seriously and substantively.”  However, Baker warned that “right now we are in a really critical point, a point where we may be in danger of losing these gains.”  He urged Commissioners to ensure that the OSCE remains vigorously engaged in combating anti-Semitism, and called for the formal OSCE acceptance of Romania’s offer to host a major conference on anti-Semitism in 2007.

Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, stressed the particular responsibility of OSCE countries to implement their commitments to undertake the concrete steps they have promised in recent years.  “One of the strengths of the ministerial decisions in OSCE, the declarations and the conferences is that they highlight that the primary responsibility for implementing commitments for addressing acts of intolerance rests with participating States,” said Burdett, “Putting those commitments into action has been a challenge…what is lacking, not just funding, is really political will.”

Liebe Geft, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, expressed alarm over exploitation and perversion of justifiable complaints over anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice to undermine support for educating new generations about Hitler’s crimes. “Learning about Europe’s historic persecution, culminating in the Holocaust of its archetypal minority, the Jews, can educate other minorities, including today’s Muslim immigrant communities in Europe, about the dynamics of prejudice and discrimination against which they seek to empower themselves.”

A full transcript of the hearing as well as the official statements from each of the witnesses is available here.

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