November 3, 2022 — Prague
Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee Director of International Jewish Affairs, addressed today the Terezin Declaration Conference.
“Government recognition of Jewish communities’ security needs is not the same as action,” Baker declared in remarks focused on the continuing rise of antisemitism. He also underscored the need “for governments to adopt and employ the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.”
The two-day conference, hosted by the Czech government, which holds the EU Presidency, is a follow up to the Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference in 2009. At that gathering, 46 governments adopted the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues. Baker participated in the 2009 conference and has long been involved in the issues discussed then and at the current conference, known as Terezin II.
Representatives of 47 countries attending the conference are reviewing progress made since Terezin I on the restitution of Jewish communal and private property seized during the Holocaust and later nationalized under Communism, meeting the welfare needs of survivors, and expanding programs on Holocaust education and remembrance.
AJC, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, has contributed to advancing goals addressed at the 2009 conference, including successful restitution negotiations in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania, and the establishment of international historical commissions in the Baltic States and Romania.
“Terezin II may well be the last collective gathering of representatives of these governments on these issues,” noted Baker, who also serves as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism.
Baker spoke today on a panel addressing National Strategies to Combat Antisemitism and Online Hate Speech. Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism, chaired the panel conversation.
“An effective strategy to combat antisemitism requires a whole-of-government approach,” said Baker. “Law enforcement, hate crime monitors, legislators, prosecutors and judges, and educators must all be activated and involved.”
Given that separate government ministries are involved, “adopting a national action plan and appointing a national coordinator are important as they can move beyond a siloed approach to the problem.” The European Commission’s Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism has led efforts to make this an expected strategy for all states to follow, Baker added.
Baker was emphatic about the danger of increasing antisemitism online. “Even as we become more skilled at identifying and mapping and more aware of its disastrous real-world consequences, we seem helpless to put a stop to it,” Baker said. “We are vastly outnumbered and out funded by the social media giants. Content monitors and community liaisons, however sincere and dedicated they may be, are no match for algorithms designed to push ‘grievance’ as the companies’ basic business model.”
He also touched on Holocaust issues discussed at the conference that have an impact on antisemitism in Europe. “Let us recognize that the restitution of former Jewish property – a primary focus of this Terezin II Conference – frequently engenders an increase in antisemitism,” Baker stated.
“Holocaust education is widely seen as an important tool to combat antisemitism,” Baker said. “It has special relevance for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where the crimes of the Holocaust occurred and where the role of local collaborators and perpetrators may still not be acknowledged and addressed.”
He further emphasized that honoring fascist era leaders, as has occurred in several countries participating in the Terezin II conference, “undermines the very sense of security and well-being of Jewish communities, who are themselves the descendants of those Holocaust survivors.”