Let me begin by thanking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the organizer of this conference, and the many professionals from the Ministry who have taken a leading role, including Ambassador Gideon Behar and Akiva Tor. I also want to thank the dedicated cadre of Israeli and international participants, government and non-government, who will continue to pursue this critical agenda in the months and years ahead.
Let me also thank Ira Forman, the U.S. Special Envoy for Combatting Anti-Semitism, who has traveled to Israel to take a leading role at this conference. The U.S. government is a vast, seemingly limitless entity, and responsibility can sometimes become diffuse between agencies. In this case, we are fortunate to have Ira at the helm, steering the U.S. government’s response to anti-Semitism. A single address can be a powerful tool. Ira’s tenure at State is proof and we continue to press other governments to designate lead officials in the fight against anti-Semitism.
I am also pleased to announce that our Special Envoy for Holocaust issues, Nicholas Dean, also traveled to Israel this week to join this conference and meet with Israeli counterparts.
Here in Israel, during the four years I have served as the U.S. ambassador, I have participated in innumerable celebrations, ribbon-cuttings, and award ceremonies, yet the moments that are most seared in my mind are the funerals and the condolence calls. I stopped counting a long time ago.
The funerals in Jerusalem last January of four French Jews murdered in the Hyper Cache in Paris: Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Francois-Michel Saada, and Phillipe Braham—Yoav was just back from a Taglit trip to Israel—were a stark reminder of the challenges we face. Not long after, I made a condolence call on a family member of Dan Uzan, who was murdered while guarding a synagogue in Copenhagen. Five lives stolen by terror; stolen by hate; stolen by a violent, murderous anti-Semitism that has shaken world Jewry to its very core.
Toulouse, Djerba, Overland Park, the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, AMIA and the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Burgas, the names are all-too-familiar. Murder and terrorism are just the tip of the iceberg, since this ancient hatred can rear its ugly head in a variety of guises and from platforms both near and far.
In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama condemned the “deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.” He later said, “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community. They also threaten the values we hold dear – pluralism, diversity, and the freedoms of religion and expression.”
We are not immune in America. On college campuses, students have had their fitness for student government called into question because they are Jews. The FBI’s statistics for 2013 present a stark finding: more than half of all hate crimes committed in the United States involving religion targeted Jewish-Americans. These disturbing trends occur even as, according to a 2014 Pew poll, Judaism is the religion viewed most positively by most Americans.
But outside our borders, the phenomenon we face is global. It is a plague on Europe, a cancer in the Middle East and beyond, and it requires our constant vigilance.
So, with the opportunity to address this conference, I would like to:
1) elaborate on the scope of the problem;
2) provide some examples of the U.S. government response; and
3) lay out some of the challenges ahead.
My government is under no illusions: anti-Semitism manifests all-too-often as murder and terrorism.
But our common struggle is also against other forms of anti-Semitism:
- Incitement or justification for the killing or harming of Jews;
- Dehumanizing or demonizing Jews, or proffering collective stereotypes of Jews;
- Holocaust denial, or perhaps the more insidious phenomenon of Holocaust minimization;
- Accusations of dual loyalty; or
- Delegitimization, defamation and double standards – this is where criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism.
The scope of the problem, as this audience knows only too well, is enormous. Israelis know what it means to be up against seemingly impossible odds, and they know the importance of standing your ground and not wavering. None of us should ever waver in our shared struggle. The chronicles of Israel, wrote Natan Alterman, will tell of the grit and of the supreme sacrifice to realize the re-birth of a Jewish state. It was an achievement that came at a steep price. It was not bestowed on a silver platter.
Just the same, the scourge of anti-Semitism—whether in its murderous or less violent forms—requires a collective commitment and determination. We cannot be passive.
A solution will not suddenly appear, or be crafted and conveyed by others. The purveyors, be they government officials articulating a regime’s hateful policy, or lone wolves within our own societies, all must be confronted and rooted out.
When the U.N. General Assembly convened in January, President Obama linked the debate on anti-Semitism in New York to “our ongoing work to promote the universal rights and fundamental freedoms memorialized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…Moreover, when the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Jews are repressed, the rights and freedoms of other minorities and other sectors are often not far behind. For all these reasons,” President Obama said, “combating anti-Semitism is an essential responsibility for all of us. Every nation, every region, and every community must do its part.”
No one should be surprised that the United States and Israel are in this fight together. Our relationship has long been anchored by shared values, the first and perhaps the strongest pillar of our extraordinary partnership.
Our two countries share a mutual commitment to democracy, liberty, equality, and justice for all of our citizens. And as those gathered here know only too well, in a world where freedom still struggles, Israel and America lead in safeguarding the rights of our own citizens to speak, associate, and worship freely in an open and tolerant society.
And anywhere Israel is subject to delegitimization or unfair criticism, you find American and Israeli diplomats working together to fight back. In any international forum, whether it takes place in New York or Geneva, in Paris or the Hague, U.S. and Israeli diplomats are in constant contact to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
And together, we have made clear to governments around the world, including in Europe, there must be zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, focused efforts to stamp it out, and greater protection for its intended targets.
Let me provide a few additional examples of what the U.S. government is doing in those areas.
- Our intelligence agencies, at home and abroad, are constantly on the watch for threats and are frequently deployed to help respond to incidents, including violent attacks, in order to ensure the proper lessons are learned and that perpetrators are held to account.
- Law enforcement agencies, including, but not limited, to the FBI, are working day-in and day-out to track hate crimes and anti-Semitism, monitor potential threats, and respond rapidly to the gravest incidents. At the Federal, state, and local level, American law enforcement has reached an extraordinary degree of readiness in confronting this problem.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been making annual grants to nonprofit community organizations facing heightened security threats. In the $12 million in grants announced last year, 94 percent was earmarked for Jewish institutions. Since the program was established a decade ago, over $150 million has been allocated to at-risk nonprofits to enhance their security and readiness.
- At the State Department, our human rights and religious freedom reports now fully incorporate reporting on anti-Semitism. These are not just dusty, obscure government reports. These are annual studies that have become defining documents for American foreign policy, guidestars for other like-minded states, and sources of inspiration for human rights advocates worldwide.
- At the OSCE forum in November in Berlin, we rolled up our sleeves and dug in to make the meeting as impactful as possible. This included Vice President Biden’s engagement with Swiss President Burkhalter to cohost the meeting and our lobbying at OSCE to have the Berlin recommendations approved by the OSCE Ministerial Council.
- Most recently, and together with Israel, the United States managed to convene the United Nations General Assembly earlier this year to shine a spotlight on anti-Semitism—the first time the world body devoted a meeting to the subject.
- The State Department’s hub for this work, our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, also knows how to invest in targeted, bottom-up initiatives to expand the broader coalition to counter anti-Semitism. One recent example was our funding for an innovative educational program that recently brought imams to visit Nazi death camps in Poland.
These examples demonstrate that our response is not limited to outrage or indignation, or even to dramatic acts of solidarity—although we place tremendous importance on such steps, such as President Obama’s recent visit to the Great Synagogue of Stockholm, and the Secretary’s visit to the Hyper Cache.
But we are constantly striving for more. Our aim is to prevent future outbreaks of anti-Semitic hate, counter attacks and flare-ups, and drive home to other governments and multilateral organizations the need for accountability. For example, more than twenty years have passed, but we continue to engage the Argentine government on the need to resolve the AMIA and Israeli Embassy bombings. There is no statute of limitations on terrorism. Alberto Nisman’s shocking death has only added to my government’s keen interest in these cases.
As Ambassador Samantha Power, our envoy to the United Nations, said at the OSCE meeting in Berlin: “governments must also ensure that the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts are held accountable. This means vigorously arresting, investigating and prosecuting attacks when they occur; passing hate crimes legislation, and strengthening it where it already exists – without, of course, infringing on civil liberties and due process.”
Does our response sometimes lead to uncomfortable conversations, or even, on occasion, confrontations? It most certainly does, whether with friends, adversaries, or within multilateral institutions—where the structure sometimes promotes silence over outspokenness.
The United States is not silent and will not be silent. Take for example Secretary Kerry’s first visit to Turkey in early 2013; he did not shy away from pushing back against unacceptable comments about Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish people.
We in the United States are fortunate to have world-class civil society institutions like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, and so many others – many of whom are represented here at this conference. They have ensured that American civil society is at the forefront of our response to anti-Semitism.
In fact, I am pleased to join the ADL this month in honoring Abe Foxman for his lifetime of service to the cause of human rights, and working for the strength, security and vitality of the Jewish people. All of these institutions play an “indispensable role” according to Ambassador Power, and they are constantly on the watch.
And by the way, they include not only Jewish groups, but many others such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Human Rights Campaign. Their training programs are invaluable, their advocacy is critical, and their analytical tools are required reading.
What are the challenges ahead?
First, we must keep our voice loud and clear on the world stage.
Second, as the mass atrocities in Syria remind us, or the on-going struggle for freedom and human rights in Iran, we must never lose sight of the linkage between this struggle and our broader human rights effort. It is a multi-front, constant battle against forces of extremism and radicalism that threaten our collective security and our collective humanity.
In terms of ongoing policies and programs, some of which I outlined above, there is undoubtedly more work to be done—both at home and abroad.
“Even one hate crime,” FBI Director James Comey said last year, “is one too many.”
We engage a wide range of governments on ways to increase training initiatives for law enforcement personnel, as well as on ways to follow our lead to improve the monitoring and reporting of anti-Semitism. Critical gaps exist in the law enforcement agencies of even some of our close partners in this regard, and I encourage participants here to engage with our various Embassies and other counterparts in the U.S. government on this ongoing effort.
But we know there is much more to be done, at home and abroad, and we look forward to the recommendations coming out of this conference and to our own consultations with so many of the key actors present here this week.
Let me conclude by restating an unshakeable reality about my government’s response to anti-Semitism: you can count on the United States not to let up.
You can count on the United States to be unequivocal whenever legitimate criticism of Israel degenerates into an excuse for anti-Semitism or incitement to violence, as was enshrined in the Berlin Declaration more than a decade ago. You can count on the United States to rally others to the cause, and to pursue justice and accountability at home and abroad, and to speak truth in the face of anti-Semitic rhetoric, innuendo, and conspiracy theories, no matter the source.
Israel and the Jewish people, as well as all defenders of human rights and human dignity, do not stand alone. President Obama carried that same message in this same venue two years ago, and I am repeating it here today.
You can always count on the United States to lead in our common struggle to combat anti-Semitism wherever it occurs.