Sharon Samber covers the White House and Congress in JTA's Washington Bureau, writing about domestic policy issues.
U.S. Commission Poised to Address Europe's Latest Anti-Semitic Scourge
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WASHINGTON, May 23 (JTA) -- A U.S. commission may soon focus on escalating anti-Semitism in Europe.
Members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent government agency that monitors human rights in Europe, said they hope to hold a special session on anti-Semitism at a July meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The comments came at a meeting Wednesday that was held in response to a wave of anti-Semitic incidents that have swept across Europe, particularly in France, in recent months. The commission, which has representatives from Congress and federal agencies, heard testimony from several Jewish groups on increasing anti-Semitism in France, Russia and other countries.
Jewish leaders who testified at the hearing said they are adamant about bringing the issue beyond vague condemnation and moving it toward the front of the agenda for European leaders.
Public statements by government leaders at every level are needed, said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken out against extremism and intolerance but he and other European leaders must "transform their words into concrete deeds," Levin said.
Commission members criticized European leaders for being slow to speak out against the anti-Semitic violence.
"We hope we will begin to hear more than the deafening silence from European leaders," said Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Clinton and other senators recently introduced a largely symbolic resolution in the Senate that calls on European governments to speak out against anti-Semitism, investigate and punish anti-Semitic violence and protect their Jewish citizens and institutions.
Jewish leaders said they are pleased that the commission is taking up the issue, but emphasized that more has to be done--both by European governments and by human rights organizations.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said biased verbal attacks on Israel have contributed to a climate in which the Jewish state is demonized. Baker and other Jewish leaders noted the hatred evident at a U.N. anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, last year and the danger of keeping silent and thereby lending legitimacy to anti-Semites.
One of the human rights groups that did not respond to the anti-Semitism at the Durban conference, Jewish groups say, was Amnesty International, which has been critical of Israel and charged it with human rights violations against Palestinians.
Amnesty has also criticized armed Palestinian groups for their attacks on civilians. At the hearing, Amnesty strongly condemned anti-Semitism, saying "criticism of specific Israeli actions and policies must not become the basis for violent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions."
But nongovernmental organizations have to go farther than that, said Kenneth Jacobson, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "We'd like to hear more NGOs criticize how Israel is portrayed in the media," he said.
Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's director for international liaison, said he has misgivings about the major human rights organizations and their responses to attacks on Israel. As for the next step, Samuels believes the U.S. government and the American Jewish community must speak out.
The push must be American-driven because the Europeans have shown an inability to solve the problem on their own.
"American pressure is the key," he said.