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Rome Conference: "Anti-Semitism - A Threat To Democracy"
Posted: December 15, 2004

In an effort to raise awareness of the growth and spread of anti-Semitism internationally and the danger it poses for democratic societies, a landmark conference on anti-Semitism was convened in Rome, Italy, by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian daily newspaper, Il Foglio.

The two-day conference, Anti-Semitism - a Threat to Democracy, brought together prominent voices in the Italian, European and U.S. government, media and experts for an examination of current trends in anti-Semitism and a discussion of how democratic societies can fight back against anti-Jewish attacks and incitement in Western nations.

Delivering the opening address Wednesday, Gianfranco Fini, the Italian Foreign Minister, said the conference "confirms the need for commitment by all political institutions and society in general in the dutiful fight against anti-Semitism."

In his opening remarks, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and author of Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, praised Fini "for Italy's leadership, courage and stand against anti-Semitism." Mr. Foxman spoke of the need for European nations to help combat anti-Semitism both in their own nations, and abroad, especially in the Middle East.

During the conference Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, was presented with one of Italy’s highest honors, the Commendatore of the Italian Republic, by Chamber of Deputies President Pierferdinando Casini, who said the award was bestowed on the recommendation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Barbara B. Balser, ADL National Chair, addressed the opening session with the Italian foreign minister and moderated a discussion on monitoring anti-Semitism.

Italy, a major ally in the U.S. war against terror and steadfast supporter of Israel, was selected as the site for the conference because of the willingness of the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to openly confront anti-Semitism, both in Italy and within the European Union.

"This Italian government from the beginning has recognized the seriousness of anti-Semitism," Mr. Foxman said.

Franco Frattini, Europe's new Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice, told the conference that he would lobby the European Union countries for laws dealing with anti-Semitism across the continent.

"Europe has the right, and perhaps the duty, to propose to members a common base ... to strike at and punish racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism," Mr. Frattini said. "Europe can, with unity, approve a common European rule which will ... oblige all countries to adopt a law."

The conference, held at the Foreign Ministry's Villa Madama, featured major addresses by leading Italian politicians, including Pierferdinando Casini, Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Giuseppe Pisanu, Minister of the Interior, and Marcello Pera, President of the Italian Senate. Israeli officials addressing the conference included Israeli Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein and Ehud Gol, the Israeli Ambassador in Rome.

The conference included sessions on "Monitoring Anti-Semitism," "Democracy and Anti-Semitism" and "The Role of Media and Culture." The subject of "Government and International Responses to Anti-Semitism" was addressed by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, former Foreign Minister of Spain Ana Palacio, Oded Ben Hur, Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican, and Nicole Guedj, the Secretary of State for Victims' Rights in the French Ministry of Justice.

Europe must take action to counteract anti-Semitic speech, especially when it is defended as freedom of speech, Ms. Palacio said. She added that "as democracies we have to draw a clear line" between criticism of Israel and its policies, and anti-Semitism.

Journalists participating in the conference included Martin Peretz, Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic, David Brooks, foreign affairs columnist with The New York Times, David Landau, Editor of the Israeli daily Haaretz, and Giuliano Ferrara, Editor of Il Foglio.

Describing the pain he feels when his newspaper reports Israeli abuses of Palestinians, Mr. Landau said he knows that such information could end up fueling anti-Semitism. But Mr. Landau said his newspaper prints all the news because that is the role of the media in a democratic society.

Mr. Brooks said he noticed an increase in anti-Semitism after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. "I was not someone who paid a lot of attention to anti-Semitism, but then September 11th happened. After the attacks, "you began to see the anti-Semitic e-mails. They started to show up on my voice mail." Mr. Peretz told the conference that the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in Europe is not fully understood in the United States. "Americans have a hard time understanding the grip that anti-Semitism has on the imagination, and even American Jews have a hard time understanding the grip it has," he said.

Experts dealing with anti-Semitism and its threats to democracy included Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, Joshua Muravchik, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, and Fiamma Nirenstein, author of The Progressive Anti-Semites.
• Pierferdinando Casini
•  Carl Gershman
•  Alcee L. Hastings
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