Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Rabbi Andrew Baker
Personal Representative of the CiO on Combating Anti-Semitism - Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe


At the outset I want to express my appreciation for the role that you, Senator Cardin and Representative Smith, have played in particular and the Helsinki Commission more generally. My memory and experience go back long enough to know firsthand that so much of the OSCE and ODIHR work on fighting anti-Semitism and combating intolerance more generally—activities that include the first international conferences, important declarations, monitoring and police training programs, educational initiatives, and even my own current position and that of my two colleagues—can really be traced back to the hearings and resolutions and advocacy efforts that you initiated here. So it is a special pleasure and privilege for me to be present this morning.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has sparked anti-Israel demonstrations in many places, with notably large numbers of angry protesters in several European capitals. Many are carrying placards and spewing rhetoric that is clearly anti-Semitic. A week ago in Paris crowds shouted “Death to the Jews,” and laid siege to a synagogue with two hundred worshipers inside, leading the Interior Minister to ban further demonstrations. But unauthorized demonstrations in France, Germany and elsewhere still continue.

Ten years ago the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting in Berlin adopted the Berlin Declaration, which stated in part that, “[We] declare unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East never justify anti-Semitism.”

Events taking place today in the OSCE region show how important it is to remember those words. They are a stern rebuke to those who would seek to excuse the anti-Semitism or rationalize it. And they are a clear call to political leaders to speak loudly and act quickly to condemn the anti-Semitic attacks and ensure that all available legal measures are taken to prevent further outbreaks.

I would have hoped that as we are already halfway through our current mandate I could report to you on the findings of our OSCE country visits, which is a major component of our work. Unfortunately, we have so far not undertaken a single, joint visit until this one to the United States. A second visit has now been scheduled for Denmark in September. Other countries have been identified, and I know that the Swiss Chairmanship is hopeful that we might also pay visits to Russia and Turkey. But so far nothing more has been fixed. The Swiss have facilitated discussions with the UN in Geneva and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in the belief that we might learn from their experience and take advantage of the information they have gathered. This may prove to be true, but it will only be truly demonstrated via our own country visits.

I should point out that I did make a special visit to Ukraine on my own in late April, as a way of responding to the extraordinary situation at the time and the heightened attention that contesting parties were giving to charges of anti-Semitism. That report has been completed and issued and is appended to this testimony. I should note that one of the special challenges was to separate anti-Semitic incidents that were determined to be provocations by outside actors from what might otherwise be attributed to local elements. My visit occurred at volatile time. (An OSCE military monitoring mission was being held hostage in eastern Ukraine.) And I am grateful for the assistance provided to me by the Swiss Chairmanship that made the visit possible.

Of course there have been other important and troubling developments with regard to anti-Semitism in the OSCE region which I would like to address.

The murder of four people at the Jewish Museum of Brussels in June apparently carried out by a self-radicalized Islamist extremist reminded us of the special security needs confronting Jewish communities in Europe. In many ways it was similar to the murder of three young children and a father that was carried out in Toulouse, France in 2012. I had the opportunity to address issues of security with authorities in both Belgium and France during country visits undertaken last year. While I believe they are aware of the dangers confronting Jewish communities—although the new challenges posed by radicalized Jihadists returning from Syria are only beginning to sink in—they and most other OSCE participating States have not really adjusted to this new reality. This issue was taken up at length in June 2013 in Berlin at a high level expert conference, Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities in the OSCE Region: Challenges and Good Practices. A summary report of the conference is appended to this testimony. ( ) Although not binding, the participants offered a number of important recommendations to participating States which are only more relevant in light of recent developments.

Members of this Commission will recall that ten years ago this year the OSCE organized a high level conference on anti-Semitism which was hosted by the German Government in Berlin and also issued the important Berlin Declaration. I know you were interested in marking this important anniversary and using it as an opportunity to reexamine the problem and to secure renewed commitments by governments. I am pleased to report that under the current Swiss Chairmanship a high level event has now been scheduled for November 12-14, and it will again be hosted by the German Government in Berlin. Both Swiss Foreign Minister (and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office) Didier Burkhalter and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be present, and we hope that other participating States—including the US—will also attend at a similarly high level. The Berlin gathering will also include an expanded NGO forum with special attention given to student participation.

Among the issues scheduled to be discussed in Berlin are the security challenges facing Jewish communities, responding to hate on the Internet, the role of political leadership in the fight against anti-Semitism, the impact of growing opposition to ritual circumcision and kosher slaughter, and (with particular relevance to the current situation) the impact of the Middle East conflict on European Jewish communities.

For long version of testimony, please CLICK HERE.