At Conference, Cultural Change Said Necessary to Fight Anti-semitism

Concrete legal and political measures are needed to combat a worrying wave of anti-Semitism that has emerged in Europe over the past three years — but so is a dramatic change in personal, political and cultural mind-sets.

Those are the sentiments that emerged at an unprecedented conference on anti-Semitism organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperate in Europe.

Speaker after speaker described the resurgence of violence against Jews and Jewish institutions in various countries, ranging from the desecration of cemeteries to the torching of synagogues.

They described a tidal wave of hate mail and anti-Semitic Web sites, and a demonization of Israel in the media and the political arena.

They described “polite anti-Semitism” among the upper crust apparently made “legitimate” by popular criticism of Israel’s actions against the Palestinian intifada.

“Anti-Semitism is not just a number of incidents; it is a state of mind,” Dutch diplomat Daan Everts, representing the current OSCE chairman, told the opening session of the two-day meeting.

“It cannot be discarded as something belonging only to a lunatic fringe of society. Anti-Semitism has deep roots and we should not delude ourselves in thinking that anti-Semitism cannot occur in democratic societies, which adhere to the rule of law,” Everts said. “Probably none of our states is fully exempt from it.”

The conference — the first ever stand-alone session on anti-Semitism held by the 55-member OSCE — stems from a decision taken by the OSCE foreign ministers’ annual meeting last December. This conference will be followed by another one in September on discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

The United States was instrumental in pushing for the meeting — at times in the face of reluctance by some European states — and U.S. delegates were outspoken in calling for concrete steps with measurable effects.

“The history of this moment will be if it is not just a one-off event, but by recognizing that anti-Semitism is a virus and must be dealt with by civil society as a clear and present danger, for now and for the future,” the Anti- Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, told JTA. “Anti-Semitism was, is and will continue to be the canary in the coal mine vis-a-vis democratic societies.”

New York’s former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, the head of the U.S. delegation, said the U.S. wanted to see “specifics emerge from this conference — not just discussion.”

He proposed an eight-point plan that could serve as a framework for action. It includes:

compiling statistics for hate crimes and reporting them publicly;

passing hate-crimes legislation;

holding regular international meetings so progress in fighting anti-Semitism can be judged;

monitoring schools and textbooks for anti-Semitic content;

disciplining political debate so that criticism of Israel is not couched in anti-Semitic terms that enable “debate to turn into an appeal to hatred”;

refuting hate-filled lies immediately;

remembering the Holocaust accurately; and

establishing groups of people from various faith communities to respond to instances of hatred.

“There has been a rising number of incidents of anti-Semitism and there has not been the kind of acknowledgment of it that you would expect,” Giuliani said in a conference call from Vienna with American reporters.

“It’s impossible to really give a fair appraisal of the amount of anti-Semitism because the reporting is so different and not uniform,” he continued. “It’s possible that countries that are doing a better job by having a better reporting system will seem like they are doing worse.”

A uniform tracking system would help redress that problem, he said.

“By doing that, you remove the whole possibility of denial. It gives you a chance of assessing where your systems are working,” he said.

The OSCE, formally established in 1995, grew out of the Cold War era’s “Helsinki process” of human rights monitoring and conflict resolution, which was formally known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It had its origins in the Helsinki Final Act, which was signed by the leaders of 33 European states on Aug. 1, 1975.

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