Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. George V. Voinovich
Senator - United States Senate


I want to thank Chairman Hastings and the Helsinki Commission for holding these important hearings on anti-Semitism. I also attended the hearing held on January 29th, and I felt that it was extremely important and very useful.

I would first like to extend a special expression of gratitude to my fellow commissioners Senator Cardin and Representative Chris Smith. Your leadership has been critical to the global efforts to combat anti-Semitism. I remember the many meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the many resolutions that we worked together to pass. I am so grateful to partner with you on this work, and I want to thank you for inviting me to join your panel as an ex-Commissioner. You know this issue is very near and dear to my heart, and it means a lot to me that you are willing to welcome me back as an honorary participant.

I remember the moment that I committed myself to this issue. I was in Israel with my wife Janet, one of the many official visits that we have made to Israel together since my time as Mayor of Cleveland. The life of my daughter Molly, who was killed in a car accident in her youth, was honored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) who dedicated a forest to her memory. It was during one of those early visits to Israel that we visited Yad Vashem. I was deeply struck and saddened by the horrible things that Christians had done to the Jewish people. I promised on that day that if anything like that ever happened again in my life-time, I would do everything possible to fight against it, and to emulate the actions of the righteous gentiles.

I recall working with the Chairman and Commissioners Cardin and Smith at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Berlin in 2002 to pass a resolution to combat anti-Semitism. Since that time, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has annually passed declarations addressing anti-Semitism and has agreed to concrete measures to implement their declarations.

In 2004, I worked with my admirable colleagues on the panel here to introduce and pass S.2292, the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act. That bill required the State Department to assess the rise of anti-Semitism and issue a report, which it did in 2005, detailing the disturbing trends. It also established the position of the Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism. I was very glad to see that position filled, after a long period, and I am very happy to know that it is filled now, and that we have an individual working to address this issue on a full-time basis. Gregg Rickman, who is here to testify today, came to meet with me in my office on many occasions. I look forward to hearing what Gregg has been doing to combat a trend that continues to disturb us all.

We heard at the last hearing that despite our efforts in the United States and the commitment of the OSCE participating nations to the Berlin Declaration, anti-Semitism is not disappearing. It is alive and well. It is increasing in many places. It is continuing to result in horrible acts of violence and discrimination in Europe – a place that shares our values and seeks to uphold human rights and religious freedom. This is an issue that should concern all of us, and it should definitely concern the OSCE.

According to Tel Aviv University, 54% of all “major violent anti-Semitic incidents” and 43% of “major anti-Semitic attacks” recorded worldwide in 2006 occurred in Western Europe. The highest number of anti-Semitic incidents occurred in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

The EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reports that in the last 5 years, anti-Semitic crime has increased by 62.4% in France, 15.5% in the U.K., and 1.7% in Germany.

Reports indicate that no country in Europe has been completely immune to anti-Semitic incidents. I want to site a few of the incidents to stress that no European country seems to be immune to the problem:

BELARUS: In late February 2007, neo-Nazi activists attacked Larissa Shukailo, and shouted "Get away to your Israel!" Shukailo filed a complaint with the authorities, but no suspects have been identified.

BELGIUM: On July 5, 2006, a North African man yelled anti-Semitic insults at two Jewish boys and returned later with friends to assault the Jewish boys. One boy was badly hurt and the other escaped. The perpetrators were not found.

FRANCE: On April 21, 2007, vandals damaged 180 graves, a quarter of which were Jewish, in the main Le Havre cemetery of Saint-Marie.

THE NETHERLANDS: In late October 2006, for example, 15 gravestones were vandalized in a Jewish cemetery in Beek.

RUSSIA: On May 5, 2007, an assailant threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Saratov. No suspects were apprehended.

GERMANY: March 8, 2007, 63 tombstones were destroyed at a Jewish cemetery in Diesbeck.

But I want to stress that there are many positive steps being taken by the OSCE states to document and reverse this trend.

In Germany, two men were arrested in connection with the cemetery desecrations that I just mentioned, and in 2006, German authorities reportedly conducted 257 investigations of these incidents and made 29 arrests.

This is just one example of some work to stop these trends, but I do think it is important to note the positive steps that nations are taking to fight back. We need to highlight them publicly and congratulate these nations for taking the problem seriously, reporting the crimes when they occur, and running the investigations that will lead to prosecutions. By citing and praising these steps through the OSCE forum, we provide an incentive for other nations to do more.

I want to note that I also received a letter from the Ukrainian Embassy this week that I would like to submit for the record. Ukraine has experienced some negative trends on anti-Semitism. Last year, I raised my concerns about this with the Ukrainian Ambassador and asked for an update. The Ambassador provided me with some information that I think is very encouraging. Ukraine’s President Yushchenko has established a Special Operative Unit to Fight Xenophobia and the unit has arrested a suspect who circulated the notorious anti-Semitic brochures in Odessa on December 24, 2007. Ukraine’s Parliament is taking many legislative steps to strengthen hate-crimes legislation. And many other steps are mentioned here that are encouraging signs.

I want to congratulate Ukraine for its work on this and thank the Ambassador for providing the information.

In conclusion, I am very eager to hear from our witnesses, and most importantly to hear their recommendations about how the OSCE and its members should proceed in the future. I would like to know how Congress can help. As you can see, we are very committed to this issue, and we look to you for your advice.