AJC Global Forum Blog

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How Russia Scuttled Efforts to Fight Anti-Semitism

As anti-Semitism spreads—especially in Europe—governments are grappling with the challenge of how to safeguard their Jewish communities. And while it may seem that everyone knows how to identify anti-Semitism, defining the term is no simple matter.

The effort to create a commonly-accepted definition of anti-Semitism began fifteen years ago, when the phenomenon became a growing problem in Western Europe. At first, governments were reluctant to acknowledge its resurgence, some denying the anti-Semitic nature of these crimes, and many not even recording hate-crime statistics.

But pressure from Jewish organizations and American political leaders began to turn the tide.

In 2004, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which encompasses all the governments of Europe and Eurasia, as well as the United States and Canada, met in Berlin and acknowledged the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe. The meeting concluded with a powerful declaration and a series of commitments, including one pledging the collection of data on anti-Semitic hate-crimes.

In that same year, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) conducted a study of anti-Semitism in the (then) 15-member European Union. It revealed great discrepancies between the countries, due largely to varying levels of diligence with which the governments recorded anti-Semitic incidents. The study also found that less than half of the national monitors had any definition of anti-Semitism, and of those that did, no two were the same. Thus it was nearly impossible to monitor events accurately.

That’s where AJC stepped in. In 2005, working with academic experts and the EUMC staff, it developed a Working Definition of Anti-Semitism—a comprehensive description of the problem with specific examples, such as conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and the demonization of Israel. The definition has since been adopted by a number of governments and other bodies, including the United Kingdom, the U.S. State Department, and, most recently, the 31-nation International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

In January 2016, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, assuming the chairmanship of the OSCE, announced that his priorities would include the fight against anti-Semitism. One goal, he said, would be adoption of the Working Definition by the OSCE. This was no easy task, since it would require a consensus decision of all 57 participating states.

Through the summer and fall, the German Foreign Ministry polled individual governments for their views on adopting the definition. They found many in favor, some opposed, and a few that had supported it in the IHRA, but now withheld their approval. AJC, meanwhile, engaged in diplomatic advocacy to persuade recalcitrant governments to support the initiative, or at least not stand in its way.

As the December meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council approached, a notable achievement was reached when all 28 EU states within the OSCE agreed on the text of a draft decision to adopt the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. When the Council convened Hamburg, Germany, on December 7, all but one of the 57 nations were prepared to endorse the decision.

The one hold-out was the Russian Federation.

Over the preceding weeks Russian delegates offered multiple and changing reasons for their opposition, and voiced them again at the opening session. Some could be refuted or easily addressed, but that mattered little. Everyone recognized that decisions were made at a higher level.

Later that evening Foreign Minister Steinmeier met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and when the meeting broke up it seemed that the Working Definition could be adopted if only two changes were made to the draft text.

But this optimism was short-lived. When delegates gathered the next day to hear the new Russian proposal, they were instead presented with multiple changes to the text and an entirely new paragraph that had no relation whatsoever to the definition, and was obviously designed to sow dissent among the other OSCE members. The German chair termed it a “poison pill,” and, as midnight approached, reluctantly concluded that no consensus decision was possible. Thus a decision on the Working Definition, as well as on other proposed resolutions, was blocked by Russia.

While surely disappointing, this outcome was not a total failure. The attention the Working Definition received, the discussion it engendered at the highest levels in national capitals, and the ultimate support it attracted from almost all the member-states, will serve us well as we continue to call on governments to step up their efforts to combat anti-Semitism and make use of the definition in doing so.

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Date: 1/4/2017
Islamist Terror at the Christmas Market in Berlin: Responding to a Strike against Judeo-Christian Values

By Deidre Berger, Director, AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations

“People of the world …. Look upon this city! You cannot, you must not, forsake us! There is only one possibility for all of us: to stand together until this fight has been won, until the fight has finally been settled through victory over the enemies, through victory over the force of darkness."

This emotional appeal by a Berlin politician could have come the last few days in response to the terror attack in Berlin.  However, it was made nearly 70 years ago, in a 1948 speech by then-Berlin mayor Ernst Reuter in front of half a million people.  In the wake of the Berlin blockade by the Soviets, he wanted to encourage the people of Berlin and its allies to help keep West Berlin democratic. 

This week, the eyes of the world, as so often before, turned once again toward Berlin.  This time, as too often before, it was a tragic situation that captured global attention.  On December 19th ,2016,at 8:02 p.m., a large truck plowed into a crowd of people peacefully enjoying pre-Christmas festivities at a holiday market.  Within minutes, it left behind a deadly trail of death, injuries, carnage and destruction. 

As so often before, Berliners came together and demonstrated unity in the face of tragedy.   There were ecumenical services and numerous visits by politicians and neighborhood groups to the site of tragedy.  Jewish synagogues held services in memory of the victims.  The city’s dozens of Christmas markets closed out of respect to the victims for a day, flags were at half-mast, there was a moment of silence and the Brandenburg Gate was illuminated in national colors. 

These were just some of the spontaneous gestures to mark the one hundred and twenty seconds of terror that changed forever the lives of thousands of victims, bystanders and courageous helpers.   How ironic that at least two of the casualties were Israelis, tourists who were enjoying the usually peaceful atmosphere of a German holiday market. 

Once again, the fate of the people of Berlin, the once-divided city, has brought together the free-loving Western world in its struggle against the enemies of democracy.   But these touching moments of solidarity do not cover up the increasing political fallout of the attack, which is likely to change the ways in which Germany protects its open society.  The potential repercussions on upcoming national elections and the fate of current Chancellor Angela Merkel are considerable.

Although no suspect is in custody, papers have been found in the truck used in the incident belonging to a Tunisian asylum-seeker who was under observation by authorities for most of the year due to his contacts to Islamic extremist circles in Germany.  Anis Amri has a long record of criminal behavior, including violence, arson and drug trade.  His request for asylum as a supposed Egyptian refugee was denied six months previously as patently false, with his deportation delayed by the sluggish response of Tunisian authorities confirming his identity. 
Anis Amri entered Germany months before Chancellor Merkel agreed to open the borders to Syrian and Iraqi war refugees.  Nonetheless, the case has reignited the fierce debate on immigration in Germany that started with last year’s large influx of nearly a million refugees.  Anti-immigration forces immediately accused Chancellor Merkel of responsibility for the casualties at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin and the Bavarian coalition partners, the CSU, re-opened demands to put a ceiling on levels of integration.  The debate is likely to remain a prominent campaign issue, one that will inevitably weaken the ruling conservative CDU party. 
However, the most fundamental questions raised by this attack are ones of security.  Here, there is a growing catalogue of questions facing Germany, Europe and all liberal, open societies:

• Do we have sufficient security for public events?
• Are hospitals and medical services properly trained and equipped to deal with emergencies from terrorist attacks?
• What training is underway for police and security forces to understand better the nature of the Islamic extremist threat?
• To what degree do Germany and other European countries have the manpower and financial resources to monitor sufficiently the growing network of ISIS fighters who have returned from Syria, as well as track the ever larger circles of ISIS supporters?  
• How can Germany and other countries intensify the rapid exchange of information on a local, state and national level?
• Can existing counter-terrorism legislation be tightened without endangering personal privacy and freedom?
• How well does inter-European intelligence cooperation function regarding networks of terror and how can the cooperation be improved?  
• How can we enhance measures to stop Islamic extremist hatred in Internet and social media?
• What is being done to educate teachers and social workers to counteract radicalization in schools?
• How can we better prevent Salafist recruiters from being “the better social workers,” in the words of Berlin terrorist expert Ahmad Mansour?
• How are governments addressing the problem of the growing Islamic radicalization networks in European prison systems?
• What steps are being taken to put an end in European countries to the invective of Islamic hate preachers who are creating networks of support for terror attacks?
• What is being done by European governments to crack down on funding sources for terrorism? 
• Are there actions being taken to control more tightly foreign funding for mosques in Europe, particularly those known to be spreading radical ideology?
• To what degree do drug trade profits fund terrorism in Europe and the Mideast and how are we countering the flourishing drug trade? 
• How can we intensify the exchange between the U.S., Israel and European countries on the fight against terrorism?
• What can be done to boost levels of public awareness and alertness to the dangers of terrorism against vulnerable soft targets?

These are the questions that we at AJC ask our government interlocutors every day, with increasing urgency. It is these questions and more that should be the basis for refocusing national government action plans to combat Islamic terrorism.

Germany has some model approaches in terms of information exchange, including a center in Berlin where representatives of state and national intelligence authorities exchange information on a daily basis.  However, major attacks such as the one in Berlin demonstrate keenly the gaps in information exchange at national and international levels. 

As Israel has demonstrated so powerfully for decades, however, it is possible to limit terror through strong, coordinated security measures that protect our free society.   Fighting terror is not just a matter of counter-measures and security but the strength of our convictions in democracy and the liberal world order.

Let us recall what President Kennedy said about communism in 1963, when addressing hundreds of thousands of Berliners at the City Hall in Schoenberg.  Today, the enemy was different but Berlin remains the symbol of the fight for the free world:

“There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Let them come to Berlin.”

U.S. President John F. Kennedy, less than twenty years after the crushing Allied defeat of the German Nazi government, was greeted with thunderous applause in a city that has witnessed the depths of evil to which man can fall.  And, to paraphrase President Kennedy’s most famous quotation from this speech, this week, we are all Berliners in the fight against extremism and hatred, standing up for our democratic values and beliefs.  Let that chorus of conviction in our democracy chime ever louder in our work at AJC, building the necessary bridges to strengthen and expand our liberal world order while combating the dark and corrosive forces of anti-Semitism, intolerance and hatred.  In 110 years, our work at AJC has never been more urgent or necessary.

 

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Date: 12/22/2016
The Good News of 2016

A cacophony of voices have derided 2016 as “bad,” “chaotic,” “violent,” and “the worst year ever.” On second thought, though, there were a number of positive developments on issues of concern to global Jewish advocates.

1. Israel’s Advancement on the World Stage

In a surprise to most casual observers and a setback to Israel’s detractors, the Jewish state’s relationships with other nations are greater in quantity and more robust in quality today than they were at the outset of 2016. Warnings from friends and foes alike that Israel faced a torrent of boycotts and a cascade of diplomatic isolation proved illusory. Perhaps most surprising is the under-the-radar progress in relations with neighboring Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, with which Israel has no formal ties. In February, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declared “…we do have channels to speak with our Sunni Arab neighboring countries. Not just Jordan and Egypt — Gulf states, North African states,” and he publicly shook hands with Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud. Israel’s relations are on the upswing with Turkey, Latin America, Asia, and especially with members of the EU, including Cyprus and Greece. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship-strengthening trips to Kenya, Rwanda, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, along with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s ground-breaking trip to India, also cemented key — and unexpected — diplomatic gains by the Jewish state in 2016

2. Major Steps Against Anti-Semitism

In late 2016, against the ominous backdrop of anti-Semitism from both the extreme right and the extreme left—especially in Europe—Russia played spoiler to a major effort to combat anti-Jewish hatred. Nevertheless, despite Russia being the lone holdout in the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a clear message was sent that all EU member nations and many more states in Europe, along with the U.S. and Canada, were determined to get on the same page in the fight against anti-Semitism.

A major battleground in Europe’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism has been France. At the end of 2014, amid a huge spike in anti-Semitism, French President Franҁois Hollande declared that the fight against racism and anti-Semitism had become "a major national focus." Today, observers in France are cautiously optimistic, but warn that even though the initial results seem encouraging – a 62-percent decline in anti-Semitic incidents – anti-Semitism is still very much present in French society, a single major event could lead to an increase in anti-Semitic incidents and reverse gains made over the past year.

 –  tension, divisions, and rejection are still very much present in French society, and a single major event could reverse this trend.

3. Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge Endures

As Russian- and Iranian-made weapons poured into Syria for use by pro-Assad and anti-Israel forces like Hezbollah, two of Israel’s most important allies, the U.S. and Germany, ensured that the Jewish state will maintain its qualitative military edge in the Middle East’s skies and waters. The U.S. provided Israel with the most advanced fighter plane — the F-35 — while Germany furnished a new state-of-the-art submarine. Israel is set to be the second country, after the U.S., with an operational F-35 squadron. “Together, we will dominate the skies,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, “with the turmoil in the region, we’re more dedicated to Israel’s security today than ever before.” In addition, a key agreement between Israel and the U.S., signed in 2016, provides $38 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel over a decade, starting in 2019. Of the annual $3.8 billion in assistance, $500 million will go to support Israeli missile defense. Previous U.S. aid was critical in helping develop Israel’s state-of-the-art Iron Dome antimissile system. In a boon for the American defense industry, Israel will spend increasing amounts of this military assistance in the U.S., beginning at the current rate of about 75 percent of the aid, and rising to a full 100 percent by the conclusion of the arrangement.

4. America’s Energy Independence

What was once considered a huge challenge for the U.S. – eliminating its dependency on foreign energy sources – is close to reality. Just a decade ago the country relied on foreign nations to supply up to 65 percent of daily energy demands. But over the next few years, thanks to a shale and natural gas boom coupled with advances in alternative energy, America will need to import only a small amount of oil, and it can be supplied by two friendly neighbors, Mexico and Canada. It’s a major accomplishment not only economically, but also geo-strategically, protecting the U.S. from pressure applied by oil-producing nations and freeing it to carry out foreign policy initiatives in the national interest.

5. Israel-U.S. Academic Ties Up, BDS Campaign Down

A concentrated effort by anti-Israel activists on college campuses throughout the U.S. fell flat in 2016 when not one university took action to divest from companies with holdings in Israel, or to cut off collaborative projects with Israeli universities. Meanwhile, ties between Israeli and American schools flourished. According to a study released by the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at Israel’s Technion and the U.S.-based Israel on Campus Coalition, American-Israeli academic collaboration has skyrocketed 45 percent in the last decade. 
 
6. South America’s Geopolitical Pivot

A year of change in South America, complete with new leaders in Brazil, Argentina, and Peru, along with a peace deal in Colombia, has strengthened the continent’s ties to Israel and benefited many South American Jews. Argentina’s new president views Israel as a strategic partner, and there’s rising optimism that the nation will finally get serious about getting justice for the families of the victims of the AMIA bombing and for the death of that tragedy’s top investigator, Alberto Nisman. Further proof of the shift is in the airline miles – a majority of South American nations sent senior government leaders to Israel in 2016. What’s drawing once-reluctant South American nations closer to Israel? In addition to changing leadership in many of these countries, increased security, agricultural, and economic ties are big factors, as the continent confronts terrorism, drought, and inflation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a 2017 trip to South America to show the Jewish state’s commitment to the relationship, so stay tuned.

7. Israel Burned, Anti-Semitism Stoked, Peace Glimpsed

In late November, cheered on throughout the Arab world on social media (#Israelburn was a top trend), wildfires spread quickly throughout Israel, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate and fear for their lives. That’s when help, in the form of firefighting personnel and equipment, started pouring in from Israel’s friends the world over. It’s also when Israelis, Arabs, and the world did a double-take: the Palestinian Authority joined the efforts to help Israelis. Israeli Opposition leader Isaac Herzog described the PA’s efforts as “a glimmer of hope that things can be different.” One of the veteran firefighters on the PA firefighting team, Muhammad Amayra, told Israel Radio, “It’s our duty to help.…This is a humanitarian situation.” 

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Date: 12/22/2016
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