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With Powell on Board, Groups Hope Anti-semitism Meeting Will Have Heft

April 21, 2004
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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presence at an upcoming conference on anti-Semitism is expected to bring more attention to a growing international problem.

Jewish leaders believe Powell’s addition to the U.S. delegation to the Berlin conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on April 28-29 will cause European nations to ratchet up their own participation. Leaders believe there will be more foreign ministers in attendance, and more international media attention.

“Everyone hopes that all the other countries will send someone of his stature to represent them,” said Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor who will lead the U.S. delegation. “We are very grateful.”

Jewish groups also are gratified that a coalition of civil rights leaders — including black, Latino and women’s rights officials — will travel to Berlin as a sign of solidarity and to educate European leaders on tools and methods for combating discrimination.

Relations between black and Jewish leaders have been strained since the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Jewish leaders sought to limit the U.S. presence there because of the threat of anti-Israel actions.

But Julie Fernandez, senior policy analyst and special counsel for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said civil rights groups saw international anti-Semitism firsthand in Durban, and wanted to show that combating anti-Semitism is part of the civil rights agenda.

“This is an opportunity for the civil rights community to speak out against something that has been part of our agenda all along,” she said, noting that Jewish groups have been part of her organization since its inception.

Powell is expected to address the conference and meet with other leaders of the diplomatic “Quartet” — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — that crafted the “road map” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The anti-Semitism conference is drawing a broad range of American officials. In addition to the 13-member official delegation, several American Jewish leaders who attended the OSCE’s first anti-Semitism conference in Vienna last year have been appointed as “public advisers” this year, after an outcry when they were left off the list.

Participants are hoping European countries will enact anti-bias legislation and create law enforcement training mechanisms. They also are seeking better record-keeping of anti-Semitic crimes.

Betty Ehrenberg, director of international and communal affairs for the Orthodox Union and a member of the U.S. delegation, said she thinks European countries, seeking favor from the United States, would be more likely to embrace these reforms because of Powell’s presence.

“I think it shows the world that the United States is really serious about how anti-Semitism is dealt with and that we’re not merely paying lip service to this issue,” she said. “Countries will feel much more obligated to take some concrete steps.”

Some in the Jewish community had been concerned that the composition of the delegation and its leadership was not sufficiently high-level and would send a signal that the administration wasn’t very interested in the issue. While the U.S. delegation was led by a former New York City mayor, the German delegation was to be led by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and German President Johannes Rau was slated to give the opening address.

Others were angered that the White House didn’t include many of the Jewish leaders who had attended the first Vienna conference and had been working on the issue at home. The Bush administration said it wanted to rotate its appointments, though some speculated that Koch and others were being rewarded for their vocal support of the president.

Koch said he believes he has the same standing as former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who led last year’s delegation to Vienna.

“I have fought anti-Semitism all my adult life,” Koch said, adding that he didn’t lobby for the position of delegation leader.

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