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Echoes of the Past Haunt a Conference in Berlin
By Joseph Smukler
Chair, International Affairs, Anti-Defamation League

Note: This op-ed appeared in the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia on May 13, 2004. RULE
Posted: May 21, 2004

For nearly 75 years, Berlin epitomized a world full of storm troopers, the S.S. — pure Satan.

Then, last month, in the heart of the former Third Reich, the past and the present collided and reshaped in one moment when the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pledged, on behalf of the 55 nations in a Berlin Declaration, to “condemn without reserve all manifestations of anti-Semitism.”

In the main meeting hall of the German Foreign Ministry with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as host, I heard speaker after speaker denounce the specter of anti-Semitism; call for increased public education; the expansion, collection and dissemination of data on anti-Semitism; and promise that their legal systems would foster safe environments — free from anti-Semitic harassment, violence and discrimination.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell put the entire weight of the United States behind the fight against anti-Semitism, saying that it is “not just a fact of history, but a current event,” and pleaded for the world to “stop the poison from spreading.”

He told the conference: “It is not anti-Semitic to criticize the State of Israel. But the line is crossed when Israel or its leaders are demonized or vilified, for example, by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures.”

Though these were positive statements, it was disappointing that neither the majority of the speakers nor the conference documents directly addressed the main cause of contemporary anti-Semitism — the anti-Zionist propaganda that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel.

The week of the conference coincided with Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Day of Remembrance. On that day, I stood on railroad track No. 17 at Grunewald Station, site of the Nazi deportation of Jewish Berliners. I lit a candle and said Kaddish. The ghosts of thousands brushed past me, crowding into boxcars to hell. Dogs barked, whistles blew, and guttural orders bellowed from bullhorns.

In the present, all was serene.

Later, I walked the halls of a charming villa at Wannsee and stood in the sun-drenched dining room, looking out at the gardens sloping gently down to an unruffled lake. Seated at the table, I imagined Reinhard Heydrich, head of Reich security, conducting a meeting with some high-ranking representatives of the S.S. and various ministries. His expert on deportation, Adolf Eichmann, was there, taking down the minutes. They were planning with business-like clarity the scheme to murder Europe’s Jews.

I watched in the still of a late afternoon.

I was drawn to a small bridge at Glienicke. It spanned the edge of Lake Havel, and marked the old border between the eastern and western sections of the city, over which spies and prisoners had been exchanged with the former Soviet Union. I walked that bridge, where in 1986, a small man walked boldly from the Soviet barrier toward the U.S. military police — and freedom.

He was Anatoly Shcharansky, who had been imprisoned for speaking up for human rights and demanding the right as a Jew to immigrate to Israel. Now, 18 years later, he spoke — as Natan Sharansky — to the conference as Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs. He declared the use of three “Ds” to distinguish between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism: double standards for government behavior; demonization; and delegitimization of Israel.

The conference made a propitious start. What’s needed now will be deeds. Those who came to Berlin must find the nerve to confront the Jew-hatred that poses as anti-Zionism. Until they do, Europe’s past will continue to haunt the world’s leaders.

Joseph Smukler, ADL Chair of International Affairs, was a member of the League's delegation to the OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism in Berlin, April 28 - 29, 2004.
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