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Diplomacy in Action

Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

Hannah Rosenthal
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism 
Testimony before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)
Washington, DC
December 2, 2011


Chairman Smith, Co-chairman Cardin, Members of the Commission—thank you for the invitation to testify before you today. As the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, I am honored to present my findings on anti-Semitism in Europe. And I would kindly ask that my full written statement be submitted for the record.

More than six decades after the murder of six million Jews in Europe, the countries of that region have made important strides. Their leaders have denounced new and old forms of anti-Semitism, and they have forcefully stated in unison, “Never Again.” Sadly, though, we have also seen many setbacks within these very same countries.

Over the past two years, my staff and I have diligently reported on anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe, following and tracking developments in new and old cases. We have observed six distinct trends. Though all appear in the written testimony, today, I want to draw your attention to three trends in particular.

The first is the persistence of traditional forms of anti-Semitism.

Throughout my travels, I run into people who think anti-Semitism ended when Hitler killed himself. Regrettably, it didn’t. Anti-Semitism is not History, its News. And it is alive and well.

According to reports done by the governments of Norway, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom there is a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism. Since June, we have seen desecrations to Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Lithuania, and Poland. We have heard modernized versions of the blood libel, where Jews are accused of kidnapping children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories – like the supposed Jewish control over the U.S. media and world banking system – continue to gain traction with some groups. And perhaps most disturbing, physical violence remains a problem. Just last week in Belgium a 13-year old girl was beaten by a group of girls shouting: “Shut up, you dirty Jew, and return to your country”.

This brings me to the second trend – Holocaust denial.

This form of anti-Semitism is espoused by religious and political leaders, and is a standard on hateful websites and other media outlets. For example, British denier David Irving continues to get public airings of his anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Petras Stankeras [Pat-Rus Stank-Erus], a Lithuanian historian and former government official teaches that the Holocaust never happened. Bishop Williamson of the SSPX regularly preaches Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic canards.

As the number of survivors, direct witnesses, and camp liberators drops, there is a heightened sense of urgency in recording their stories, and building museums and monuments for future generations.

Ironically, while some deny that the Holocaust existed, others glorify its existence. This accounts for the third trend – Holocaust glorification.

The public display of Nazi ideology and the presence of neo-Nazi groups is of special concern in Europe. This year, we have seen numerous cases. In Austria, a politician resigned after his “Blood and Honour” tattoo, the motto of the Hitler Youth, was seen in public. At a soccer match in the Netherlands, soccer fans chanted, “Hamas, Hamas, all Jews be gassed.” A British politician was expelled from his Party for shouting “sieg heil” and giving the right-arm salute at a concert. And on Middle East satellite TV watched by tens of millions of Europeans, Sheikh Qaradawi – founder and president of the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research – called for a new Holocaust to finish the job.

At the State Department, we monitor these trends and activities in all 198 countries and territories. And we report on them in two major annual reports: The International Religious Freedom Report and the Human Rights Report. As part of this process, I am developing a major training initiative for State Department employees so they can better monitor what is happening in their countries, and be sensitized to the various forms of anti-Semitism.

Of course, it is not enough to study and monitor these deeply troubling trends. It is critical that we act to reverse them.

And to do that, we can’t just preach to the choir. We have to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it. To change a culture of hate to one of tolerance, we have to continue building bridges among different ethnic and religious groups. And we have to continue working with opinion leaders in government, civil society and the media.

The State Department is doing this in a number of ways.

We sponsor teacher training on the Holocaust. We provide training to foreign law enforcement officials that cover crimes against vulnerable groups. And we use old and new technologies to communicate with the public about human rights, tolerance and democracy.

But we also have to think outside the box. And I want to note two specific examples.

1) To combat Holocaust denial, I accompanied eight leading imams – two of whom had been Holocaust deniers – to the Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps.

When we arrived at Dachau, the imams were overcome with the pictures they saw and immediately went to the ground in prayer at the sculpture commemorating the six million Jews exterminated. All of the passers-by stopped in their tracks to witness the spontaneous display of prayer and the history of the moment. Following an emotional visit to Auschwitz, all eight imams produced a statement strongly condemning Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism. They are now urging colleagues and schools to join their statement, and are also planning trips for their youth to bear witnesses and to bear the burden of the reality of the Holocaust.

2) The second example took place at the February OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

Along with my colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, we launched a virtual campaign called “2011 Hours Against Hate.” Using Facebook, we asked young people around the world to pledge a number of hours to help or serve someone who doesn’t look them, pray like them, or live like them. At the time, our goal was to get 2,011 hours pledged. To date, we have over 16,000 hours pledged and a dozen countries have already invited us to launch their own 2011 Hours Against Hate. The Olympic Committee is also trying to incorporate it in next year’s summer Olympics.

So while I fight anti-Semitism, I am also aware that hate is hate. Nothing justifies it – not economic instability and not international events.

When history records this chapter I hope it will reflect our efforts to build a peaceful, fair and just world where people defend universal human rights and dignity.

The Jewish tradition tells us that “you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Together, we must confront and combat the many forms of hatred in our world today. In this vein, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you and am happy to answer any questions.

Thank you.

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