Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Jewish Groups Mainly Absent at Europe Forum on Discrimination

September 10, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Pascale Charhon found herself part of a small minority this month when more than 300 delegates from 55 countries sat down in Vienna to discuss how to combat racism, discrimination and xenophobia.

Charhon, the director of the Brussels-based European Jewish Information Center, represented one of only half a dozen or so Jewish organizations that attended the Sept. 4-5 conference.

The lack of Jewish participation was not totally unexpected.

Convened by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the meeting followed a parallel conference in June that had focused specifically on combating anti-Semitism. So anti-Semitism was not officially on the agenda of this conference.

For Charhon, however, the broader focus provided all the more reason to attend this time around.

“The Jewish people and the European Jewish world are definitely part of Europe; we are citizens of Europe,” she told JTA.

“This inclusive Europe will protect the rights of everyone, including Jews,” she said. “We have a role to play. We have to take part in general battles in order to show others that we care.”

Joseph Moustaki, from the Israeli delegation, agreed.

“From Israel’s view, it is very important to be here, at a high level, to show that we are against any kind of racism and xenophobia, not just if it is directed against Jews,” he said.

Along with several other Mediterranean states, Israel is a partner of the OSCE. Its delegation was headed by Yuli Edelstein, the deputy speaker of the Knesset.

“I can understand why most Jewish organizations didn’t send representatives, since the issue of anti-Semitism was not on the agenda,” Moustaki said. “Still, with the Israeli presence and the organizations that did come, we manifested in a clear way how seriously Israel and the Jewish world are fighting not just anti-Semitism but other forms of hatred and discrimination.”

For some U.S. Jewish groups, however, resources were a problem.

“While this conference was an important one as well, it had such a broad agenda that it made sense for us to attend the OSCE conference coming up,” said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, referring to next month’s OSCE conference on human rights. “For us, it’s picking and choosing.”

The NCSJ was instrumental in organizing the June conference on anti-Semitism, which was hailed as a historic event for having recognized anti-Semitism as a unique form of prejudice that needed to be addressed on its own.

This month’s meeting focused on other aspects of hatred and intolerance — from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and anti-immigrant bias in Western Europe to “Islamophobia” in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Reports from both conferences will be considered at a meeting next month in Warsaw.

The anti-Semitism meeting was viewed as especially important given the emergence of what many describe as a new form of anti-Semitism that draws on traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes but increasingly shifts the target of hatred to Israel as the collective embodiment of the Jewish people.

This has been linked partly to fallout from the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and partly to an increasing identification of Jews and Israel with the United States in a confluence of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism.

A defining moment of this trend was a 2001 U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, at which Jewish and Israeli delegates were vilified by pro-Palestinian groups and other human-rights oriented non-governmental organizations.

Charhon and other Jewish delegates at the OSCE meeting this month said the sense of betrayal felt by Jewish groups over the Durban experience was lasting and had led many Jewish activists to turn inward.

“You have to recognize the trauma provoked by Durban when it comes to intergovernmental bodies,” she said.

Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Paris-based international liaison director, agreed.

“We’ve begun to move a bit toward self-ghettoization,” he said. But, he said, divorcing anti-Semitism from other hatred-related issues could prove counterproductive. “If you leave a vacuum, it will be filled by those who are hostile to us,” he said.

Recommended from JTA