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OSCE: Anti-Semitism Conference Termed 'Disappointing'

  • Don Hill

A two-day meeting of leaders from 55 nations ended today in Cordoba, Spain, in an atmosphere of disappointment. It was to have been a grand step forward in international efforts to stamp out anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. At a similar meeting last year in Berlin, delegates pledged to compile detailed data on hate crimes targeting Jews. This time, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) widened the focus to include intolerance aimed at Muslims, Roma, and other minorities. But in a speech in Cordoba, Edgar W. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, scolded the participants. He said that delegates promised a year ago to take action in the battle against intolerance. Most, as he put it, "failed miserably to do so."

Prague, 9 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- New York State Governor George Pataki, head of the U.S. delegation, told RFE/RL he agreed with Bronfman's assessment.

"It's one thing to agree with words. It's another thing to take action. And to stamp out intolerance, our goal is to have action taken so that people can live together in harmony," Pataki said.

Pataki said all that can be done "to have action taken" is to continue to press the countries involved to spend the time and the money to fulfill their obligations. The results, he said, will be worth it.

"When you deprive people of their right to freedom -- whether it's freedom of speech, or freedom to practice their religion --- then you're losing a bit of your own as well. And we're just going to continue to make the case here at the OSCE that all people should be able to live in freedom and tolerance. And that's what human rights are essentially about," Pataki said.
"We have to be vigilant in the fight against any form of intolerance, any form of discrimination. But we have to be particularly vigilant that the horrible evil of anti-Semitism not be allowed to rear its ugly head again."

Delegates acknowledged Pataki as a dominating figure at the conference. The Vienna-based OSCE said in a report that the United States was one of only three countries that came through with reliable and thorough data. Britain and Canada were the other two.

The participating countries are from Europe, North America, and Central Asia.

OSCE ministers chose the southern Spanish city of Cordoba as the venue for the expanded gathering on tolerance deliberately and with symbolism in mind.

Cordoba has an established history of developing under three cultures -- Islamic, Jewish, and Christian. The city was celebrated for its religious tolerance during the Middle Ages when Spain was under Muslim rule.

The first day of the conference concentrated on anti-Semitism. Today, the conference turned to what was called the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia, and to problems that Christians and other religious communities deal with in those places where they are minorities.

The OSCE decided in 2000 to organize a series of conferences on combating anti-Semitism. It was responding to growing reports that anti-Semitism was again on the rise in Europe. The organizers held the first of the current series in Vienna, the second last year in Berlin.

Keith Jinks is a senior OSCE spokesman. He says that the decision to expand the conferences' scope came gradually. They took form in three gatherings of OSCE leaders last year:

"Following the three meetings there was a major meeting in December -- our annual meeting if you will -- of the Ministerial Council. And the prime ministers who met in Sofia decided then that what should follow logically was a larger meeting that brings together all the sorts of discrimination and intolerance against religious and other minorities," Jinks said.

The change displeased some delegates, who expressed concern that the widening of focus could result in a dilution of concern.

New York Governor Pataki, whose constituency at home is greatly influenced by New York's large Jewish community, was cautious in his support for the broadened perspective.

"We have to be vigilant in the fight against any form of intolerance, any form of discrimination. But we have to be particularly vigilant that the horrible evil of anti-Semitism not be allowed to rear its ugly head again," Pataki said.

In his keynote address, Bronfman specifically mentioned Russia and Ukraine as centers of anti-Semitism. Interfax news agency reported today that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II, attended the Cordoba gathering and denounced anti-Semitism and all manifestations of xenophobia wherever in the world they are found.