Speech by EJC President Moshe Kantor at Rome International Conference on the Responsibility of States, Institutions and Individuals in the Fight against Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Area. Rome, January 29, 2018

Speech by EJC President Moshe Kantor at  Rome International Conference on the Responsibility of States, Institutions and Individuals in the Fight against Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Area

Rome, January 29, 2018

Dear Minister Alfano,

Your excellencies,

Dear Members of the Italian Senate and Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear partners in the fight against xenophobia and antisemitism,

There are three main security challenges in the world : North Korea, nuclear terrorism and antisemitism. The national efforts against antisemitism shows how the government (Italian government) fights against any form of aggression within the country.

I find it symbolic that today’s conference takes place in January.

As Minister Alfano noted, the OSCE in Europe is “the most important and privileged platform for dialogue and co-operation, which should be protected and valued”.

January is a tragic month in the history of European Jews. In January 1942, the Nazis adopted a plan for “the final solution to the Jewish question” – a death penalty for nearly 10 million Europeans. During the four years of its implementation, 60% of Europe’s Jewish population was killed.

Only now, 73 years after the liberation of concentration and death camps, the Jewish population in the world has reached its pre-war number. However, in Europe, we are six times less than before World War II.

 

It was also on the 27th of January 1945 that the Soviet Army liberated the 3,000 prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who were alive, from the one million who died there. This date became International Holocaust Commemoration Day.

It was in Rome that the OSCE Declaration on aggressive nationalism was adopted in 1993. Twenty-five years ago, it declared that “Aggressive nationalism, racism, chauvinism, xenophobia and antisemitism create ethnic, political and social tensions within and between States. They also undermine international stability and worldwide efforts to place universal human rights on a firm foundation”.

I regret to say that recent years have proved that the Rome Declaration was right to point this out.

We see this in today’s Europe. Radical forces, both right- and left-wing, are gaining strength. Here in Italy, which will soon hold an election, you know this only too well. In some countries, nationalists are already in power. A far-right party now sits in the German Parliament; in Austria, another far-right party recently joined the governing coalition.

The European economy is slowly recovering from the global recession. The unemployment rate is still high (especially among young people) in some countries. Social inequality is on the rise amid growing migration from regions with different cultures.

All of this has woken the demons of xenophobia and antisemitism.

The signs are evident.

In 2017, the number of antisemitic incidents escalated in the UK, France, Germany and Sweden.

Last April in Paris, a 66 year-old Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, was thrown to her death from her own apartment balcony because she was Jewish.

 

Because of the constant threat, synagogues and Jewish community centers in many European countries have been put under 24-hour police protection.

 

Less than a month ago, synagogues in Malmo and Gothenburg were firebombed because of the absurd belief that European Jews are to be blamed for a diplomatic statement from a non-Jew thousands of miles away telling the self-evident truth that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

 

Following the recent attacks in Sweden, we were honoured to welcome the Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr. Stefan Löfven at our office in Brussels.

 

We are very grateful for his honest commitment to the fight against antisemitism and we asked him to convey a message to European leaders: Attacks on Jewish individuals and institutions cannot be justified and are unacceptable in any context.

 

After all antisemitic attacks, our leaders express their shock as if they had taken place in a political vacuum, as if people marching in the streets of European capitals shouting “Death to Jews” could not actually lead to the death of Jews.

This picture cannot be ignored.  According to ODIHR’s Hate Crime Reporting, antisemitic hate crimes are among the most prevalent category of hate crimes in the OSCE region in per capita terms. [http://hatecrime.osce.org/sites/default/files/documents/Website/Infographics/2016_Data_FINAL_print.pdf ]

In the last 70 years, experts have learned how to brilliantly analyse the dynamics of antisemitism in all its spheres and manifestations.

Numerous reports on antisemitic incidents in different countries are being published, and this work is useful and important.

There have also been some positive developments, both at the level of OSCE and individual countries.

The 2016 Words into Action initiative and the Practical Guide: “Understanding Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes and Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities” are in line with the methodology that we have been promoting for the last ten years.

On the Jewish street, the search for solutions is constant, but they often result in the pessimistic dilemma of staying in Europe and living with the challenges of antisemitism or finding a safer place elsewhere.

Antisemitism is not only a Jewish problem, it concerns all European citizens.

Extremist ideologies start by threatening Jews, but are in fact a challenge to society as a whole. We have to move fast and not wait for a new catastrophe. We need to sow the seeds into fertile ground and grow a new concept of Secure Tolerance, meaning ways of making tolerance more sustainable in face of challenges like Islamism, the rise of political extremism, the increasing pressure of immigration and the persistent social, cultural and economic inequalities.

Therefore, I’m pleased to announce an initiative of our sister organisation, the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation to create an Academic Advisory Group, which will  bring together a panel of international experts including the famous historians Timothy Snyder and Anthony Beevor, and the British philosopher John Gray among others.

They will work towards elaborating general guidelines on the Secure Tolerance Concept.

It is vital to continue and promote these efforts to combat antisemitism based on the principles of responsibility, solidarity and co-operation, as proposed by the concept of this Conference.

I think that in the context of the first panel’s agenda, the priority tasks should include:

  • Quick adoption by the OSCE of the working definition of antisemitism
  • Amending national legislation based on the adopted definition
  • Bringing national enforcement practices in line with the general definition
  • Implementation by Member States of the great OSCE initiatives to combat antisemitism.

Jews in Europe need key European organisations to take a responsible and unified position in the fight against antisemitism. Now comes the hard part - shifting from Words into Action. And we do pin hopes on the OSCE.

Thank you for your attention.