Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power at the 10th Anniversary of the OSCE’s Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism
Thank you, all. Thank you, Foreign Minister Steinmeier, President Burkhalter, for convening this critically important conference. It could not be more timely. Thank you, Director Link, for all of your human rights work across a range of issues, including anti-Semitism.
We are gathered in Berlin — a great, great city — that marked two anniversaries this week. The first – November 9th, 1938 – was Kristallnacht, “the night of the broken glass,” which unleashed savage violence and destruction against Jewish homes, synagogues, schools, and businesses by Nazis in Germany and Austria.
Writing from the American Consulate in Leipzig, an American official named David Buffum recounted events in a diplomatic cable that – even today, 76 years later – has the power to shock. Buffum wrote: “In one of the Jewish sections, an eighteen-year-old boy was hurled from a three-story window to land with both legs broken on a street.” Firemen made no effort to put out the fires that consumed Leipzig’s three synagogues, he wrote, or the pyres of sacred texts burning outside of them. Instead, they hosed down the adjoining buildings to ensure that they did not catch fire. In the Jewish cemetery, tombstones were toppled and graves desecrated. In another part of Leipzig, “the insatiably,” he wrote, “the insatiably sadistic perpetrators threw many of the trembling [residents] into a small stream that flows through the Zoological Park, commanding horrified spectators to spit at them, defile them with mud, and jeer at their plight.”
As we know, the terror of Kristallnacht was just a prelude to the horror that would follow. In the immediate aftermath, 30,000 Jews were arrested to be sent to the concentration camps. And over the course of the Holocaust, of course, six million Jews would be systematically murdered.
The second anniversary – November 9, 1989 – was of course the day, 25 years ago, when the Berlin Wall came down, and along with it, the repressive system that prevented tens of millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe from exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms – including the freedoms of expression and religion. In many ways, the fall of the Wall also marked the triumph of the ideas undergirding the contemporary European system – a system built on the values of liberalism, pluralism, and fundamental freedom.
I invoke these anniversaries because they tell us a lot about the moment in which Jews in Europe, and all Europeans, find themselves today. On the one hand, Europe has come a long way – so very far – from the horrors of Kristallnacht. Today is not 1938. Genocide of the Jews in Europe is, thankfully, not a threat in 2014.
And yet, on the other hand, in the decade that has passed since 55 countries in the OSCE came together to declare our commitment to combatting all forms of anti-Semitism, we’ve actually seen an alarming increase in anti-Semitic attacks and attitudes in many parts of Europe. This trend is not only dangerous in and of itself, but it speaks to a deeper, more insidious threat to the European liberal ideal that rose up when the Berlin Wall came down.
Today, I will discuss rising anti-Semitism, the robust steps must be taken to stop it, and the stakes of this effort. Anti-Semitic attacks are not only a threat to the Jewish community; they are a threat to the larger project of European liberalism and pluralism – and should be treated as such. Anti-Semitism threatens the core principles upon which a peaceful and stable Europe has been built.
Everyone here is familiar with the alarming statistics on anti-Semitism’s rise. According to the recent European Union Fundamental Rights Agency survey of eight countries – the eight countries in which over 90 percent of Europe’s Jews live – approximately one in four of those surveyed reported having been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack or harassment in the previous year. One in four. Three-quarters of the respondents surveyed said that anti-Semitism in their country had gotten worse over the past five years.
We’ve seen these alarming trends reflected within individual countries in Europe. In France, for example, where Jews account for less than one percent of the population, in 2013 they were the victims of 40 percent of reported attacks based on race, religion or ethnicity. And since 2000, anti-Jewish violence in France has averaged rates that are seven times what they were in the 1990s, according to the Society for the Protection of the Jewish Community.
And we know well the horrifying physical attacks: the March 2012 attack on a Jewish day school in Toulouse, in which a teacher and three children – ages 8, 6, and 3 – were killed. The attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels in May that killed four people. The July firebombing, in Wuppertal, of the Bergische Synagogue – a synagogue that had originally been burned to the ground during Kristallnacht, and had only been rebuilt in 2002.
We have also seen, particularly since the most recent conflict in Gaza, rallies in favor of the rights of Palestinians or against Israel’s policies and actions increasingly feature vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric and, in some instances, even transform into anti-Semitic mobs. At rallies in Dortmund and Frankfurt in July, there were chants of “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!” The same week, protestors marched on a synagogue in Paris, reportedly screaming, “Death to the Jews,” and “Jews to the oven” – and then tried to force themselves inside, where worshippers were gathered. They were held at bay by security guards and police.
This is not without precedent. Indeed, it was a surge in anti-Semitism that led to the 2004 Berlin Declaration, and that was in large part tied to Israeli-Palestinian tensions and the Second Intifada. Taken together – and in the context of rising anti-Semitism across the continent – these incidents and the feelings behind them pose a real threat to the viability of European Jewish communities. Roughly half of Jews living in Europe surveyed by the Fundamental Rights Agency said they have contemplated emigrating as a result of anti-Semitism. Faced with these statistics ten years after the Berlin Declaration, we must ask ourselves: Why are we coming up short? What can we do to reverse these trends?
One way, as has been said, is to swiftly and unequivocally condemn these attacks when they occur, and to make the struggle against anti-Semitism a national priority. In September, Chancellor Merkel not only showed up at a national rally against anti-Semitism in Berlin, but rightly called attacks on Jews “monstrous,” and declared: “We are making unmistakably clear with this rally that Jewish life belongs to us — it is part of our identity and culture.” Months earlier, President Hollande declared, “the government remains absolutely uncompromising with respect to anti-Semitic acts because they are all attacks on France.” And Prime Minister David Cameron said to the House of Commons: “There can never be any excuse for anti-Semitism, and no disagreements on politics or policy should ever be allowed to justify racism, prejudice or extremism in any form.”
When leaders show up, nations take notice. So it was a testament to the commitment of the participating OSCE states to the 2004 Berlin conference that 55 countries participated, nearly one-third of whom dispatched ministers or cabinet members, as the United States did by sending then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. That is why President Obama sent me, a member of his cabinet, to Berlin for this conference, as part of the first ever U.S. Presidential Delegation to attend an OSCE conference. It is also why – the same year as the initial OSCE conference – the U.S. Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, legislation creating the permanent position of a US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. It is a demonstration of how seriously our government takes this issue. Our current Special Envoy, Ira Forman, is a member of our Presidential Delegation here today.
It is also why, frankly, it is deeply concerning that even as anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, a third fewer countries are participating in the 2014 conference than took part in the 2004 conference; and only one in three of the countries that sent a foreign minister or other cabinet level official in 2004 has sent one at that level to this conference. Now this is not meant in any way to disrespect the high-ranking officials who are here today or the members of parliament who have such an important role to play in this cause. But it does beg the question: Doesn’t this issue – at the very least – merit the same show of solidarity and commitment from governments today as it did a decade ago?
That is why it is critically important that OSCE states follow up on the Berlin Declaration this year, and rally around an updated plan of action that charts a concrete, unified path forward, which responds to the problems as we see them in 2014. And make no mistake, we have a problem.
One way to ensure sustained attention to anti-Semitism is to appoint a high-level envoy. There is a lot going on in the world right now: ISIL, Syria, Ebola, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Mali, South Sudan – I could go on and on. Elie Wiesel said to me not long ago: “The winds of madness are blowing.” It’s official. And knowing how consumed senior policy makers are with burning crises around the world, I can personally attest to how useful it is to have a dedicated special envoy, who has the specific mandate to combat and monitor anti-Semitism. Governments who appoint high-level officials to coordinate whole-of-nation efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and give them the political backing and resources they need, will see the difference it makes. And we know the OSCE has benefited tremendously from the leadership of appointing a personal representative on combatting anti-Semitism, a position currently held by Rabbi Andrew Baker.
Governments must also ensure that the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts are held accountable. This means vigorously arresting, investigating and prosecuting attacks when they occur; passing hate crimes legislation, and strengthening it where it already exists – without, of course, infringing on civil liberties and due process. And it means ensuring that people have the knowledge and trust to come forward when these crimes are committed. It also means making sure law enforcement officers learn how to recognize such crimes, and to build the trust of communities that is critical to such crimes being reported and effectively investigated. Prosecutors must be trained to effectively prosecute hate crimes, as the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is doing through their workshops and training guides.
Here, too, there is reason for concern: roughly half of European Jews surveyed by the Fundamental Rights Agency had no idea that hate crimes legislation existed. And the vast majority of Jews surveyed, who felt that they were victims of crimes because of their religion, said that they did not report the most serious incidents to authorities. When hate crimes are not reported, impunity reigns, perpetrators are emboldened, and victims become more vulnerable. We have to bridge the trust and the knowledge gaps.
I’ve spoken a lot about governments and what we can do, but civil society has an absolutely indispensable role to play in this effort – from preventing anti-Semitism through community outreach and education; to building the bridges between religious and ethnic groups that are the foundation to harmonious communities; to joining governments in swiftly condemning anti-Semitic acts when they occur. So our governments must work with energy and creativity to bring civil society groups into this effort, and to amplify the voices of those who are already exercising grassroots leadership on this issue. Without these partners, our efforts cannot succeed.
President Obama’s delegation to this conference includes a diverse range of civil society leaders who have been leading advocates for justice in the United States and around the world – and justice of all kinds. The leaders represent groups from the Anti-Defamation League to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP; the American Islamic Congress; Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest US advocacy group for LGBT rights. President Obama and these civil society leaders, who I had the chance to meet with just before coming here, understand that combatting anti-Semitism is not, and cannot be seen as, a Jewish issue – it is a human rights and civil rights issue. When a civil society delegation includes only Jewish representatives, it will be far harder for them and us to break through. It is essential that we — when we gather, again — that we broaden the representation in civil society so that it represents a cross section of the human rights community, because those are the stakeholders we need to engage on this issue.
With respect to anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks that occur in the context of pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli rallies – and the spikes in anti-Semitic violence that occur when tensions rise in the Middle East – our message must be unified and it must be unequivocal: We liberal democracies hold sacred the right of citizens to express their political views and to offer criticism of government – whether of foreign governments or of our own. Protests and other forms of political expression are cornerstones of our democracies. But we must be equally unified and unequivocal that such protests can never be an excuse for anti-Semitism or incitement to violence. The violence in Gaza in recent months was devastating, and it generated strong reactions from many governments and individuals. Governments must allow space for people’s views to be aired in the public sphere – whether in a conversation or at a protest. Just as there is a way to express criticisms of Palestinian policies and actions without expressing Islamophobic views or attacking Muslims; so too is there a way to express criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions without making anti-Semitic remarks. Our nations pledged to uphold the clear distinction between anti-Semitism and legitimate acts of political expression when we signed the Berlin Declaration, which states unambiguously that: “international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.” Ten years later, our job as governments is still to guard that distinction vigilantly.
So I have spoken about the robust steps that are needed to address rising anti-Semitism in Europe. But before I close, I would like also to try to grapple a little bit with the question of how the rise in anti-Semitism threatens the greater European project to promote liberal democracy and fundamental freedoms. Just as growing hostility toward Jews in a country tends to dovetail with a rise in illiberalism and other forms of repression, so can efforts to combat anti-Semitism play a critically important role in advancing Europe’s most sacred principles – democracy’s most sacred principles.
The periods when we see alarming surges of anti-Semitism are often the same periods when we see an erosion of human rights in general, including the repression of members of other minority groups. The recent rise in anti-Semitism has come as right-wing, nationalist parties have made alarming gains in Europe. Look at May’s European parliamentary elections. In Denmark, the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party finished first. In France, the far-right Nationalist Front won over a quarter of the vote – more than any other party. In Greece, the overtly anti-Semitic and xenophobic Golden Dawn received 10 percent of the vote. The list goes on.
In Hungary – where the extreme ethnic nationalist Jobbik party finished second in May elections, and where public opinion polling has shown a high level of anti-Semitic attitudes, the government has cracked down as well on the independent press and civil society groups. According to international media watch dog, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Hungarian authorities have pressured the media to tone down or abandon sensitive, critical stories and punish the journalists and media outlets that press ahead. All this at the same time a new government-commissioned monument to the Second World War depicts Hungarian “victims of German occupation” – but makes no mention of the major role the Hungarian government and citizens played in the mass extermination of Jews.
There is an important lesson here: rising anti-Semitism is rarely the lone or the last manifestation of intolerance in a society. Quite the contrary, it is often the canary in the coal mine for the degradation of human rights more broadly. When the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Jews are repressed, the rights and freedoms of other minorities and other sectors are often not far behind. Unique as the horrors experienced by Jews in Europe are, and, as essential as it is to give the Jewish community special vigilance, we must constantly situate our efforts to defend the human rights of the Jewish people within the struggle to advance universal human rights more broadly. And when we promote and defend universal human rights around the world, we must ensure that these efforts always includes the human rights of Jews.
In this sense, we can learn a great deal from the Jewish community, which having borne the immeasurable cost of silence and inaction, takes seriously its responsibility to come to the defense of other minorities to promote and protect their fundamental rights. That is why a decade ago, the American Jewish community was so forceful in its condemnation of the atrocities being committed in Darfur, and why it pressed for the United States to declare that those crimes constituted a genocide. And it is why, two decades ago, when the city of Sarajevo was under siege by Bosnian Serbs, a small Jewish community center, La Benevolencija – whose name meant “good will” and came from the community’s Sephardic roots – opened its doors to Muslims, Croats, and Serbs alike. Throughout the 1,400 long days and nights of Sarajevo’s siege, the center provided the people of the city – people of all faiths – with free meals, shelter, and medical care.
We have come to Berlin to discuss anti-Semitism in Europe. But the truth is that every region, every country, and every community needs to be talking about this enduring problem, and working to confront it, both in places that have staggering levels of anti-Semitism, and in those where it is less prevalent.
The United States is certainly no exception. Our country has a proud history of religious freedom, which was one of the founding tenets of our nation and is enshrined in the first amendment to our Constitution. We have worked diligently to make ours a nation of respect for civil rights. Yet we too see the ugly manifestations of anti-Semitism. According to a 2000* report by our Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly two-thirds of religious-driven hate crimes in the United States target Jews. In April, on the eve of Passover, a neo-Nazi opened fire outside a Jewish community center and assisted living home called Village Shalom in Kansas City. He killed three people: 14 year-old Reat Griffin Underwood; his 69-year-old grandfather, Dr. William Lewis Corporon; and 53-year-old Terri LaManno. Reat and his grandfather were Methodists; Terri was also a Christian. Terri was shot while visiting her mother who, while not Jewish herself, lived in a Jewish assisted-living home.
In upstate New York, less than two hours’ drive from where I live, Jewish students attending public schools in the Pine Bush Central School District started to find swastikas everywhere – on the walls of their classrooms, their school desks, their lockers, even a playground slide. Over several years, Jewish students said they heard jokes about the Holocaust, were pelted with coins, punched, called names, and told to get money out of garbage cans. Anti-Semitism is a global problem, and this must — there must be a perpetual effort, in the United States, Europe, and beyond, to fight it. Our work will never be finished. And it is an effort that will not only advance the human rights of Jewish people, but all of the communities that make up our incredibly diverse nations.
That is the lesson I take from a final story – a story of a small Jewish patrol group called Shomrim, in Stoke Newington, England. Taking its name from the Hebrew word for “safety,” the Shomrim was formed in 2008, in response to a series of anti-Semitic attacks on the local Jewish community. The group of a few dozen members carried out rudimentary patrols of the neighborhoods where many Jews lived.
Then, in May of 2013, two men brazenly attacked and killed a British soldier in the streets in London, claiming it was revenge for the killing of Muslims by British soldiers in the Middle East. A wave of anti-Muslim attacks in England followed – including 11 attacks on mosques in the week after the killing. Fearing that they would be next, members of the Muslim community in Stoke Newington turned to their Jewish neighbors. They asked if the Shomrim, having suffered similar attacks, would help patrol the mosque and a local Muslim community center as well as their synagogue. The Shomrim said yes and began patrolling immediately.
What the Shomrim understood was that, by patrolling the mosque and community center, they were not patrolling solely on behalf of the Muslim community, but also their own. The rights they were defending were not only the human rights of Muslims, but the human rights of Jews as well. The Shomrim understood that a Europe where anyone feels afraid or endangered because of the actions, beliefs, or speech of a neighbor is a Europe where everyone’s rights are at risk. We would all do well to embrace the same lesson.
Thank you so much.