Address by Alcee L. Hastings
Member of Congress and
President, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's
to the Rome Conference: "Anti-Semitism - A Threat To Democracy"
December 16, 2004
I want to begin by thanking our gracious hosts. Foreign Minister Fini, and of course, the ADL.
The pioneering role that the ADL has played for so many years in successfully combating anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, has been an outstanding example, as well as an inspiration, to others. The ADL, as many of you are probably aware, was instrumental in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's two Conferences on anti-Semitism. What may be somewhat less well-known, however, is that the ADL was equally committed to similar OSCE conferences focused on racism and xenophobia more generally. Moreover, the ADL was an active participant in the United Nations Conferences on Racism and Xenophobia.
I share the ADL's foresight in understanding that ridding the world of hate is much deeper and broader than anti-Semitism. I have welcomed the chance to work with you in the past, and I look forward to our continued partnership.
I come to this panel in three capacities, essentially with three agendas, but with one common goal.
First, as a Member of the United States Congress who serves on the House of Representatives' Task Force on anti-Semitism. In this capacity, my agenda is to make it clear that the United States Congress, despite partisan wrangling on many issues, stands united behind your actions to stop the spread of anti-Semitism. We are your partner in this effort.
Second, I come here as President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. In this capacity, I point out the critical role that the OSCE PA has played in raising awareness and developing responses to the spread of anti-Semitism in our 55 member states throughout Europe and North America.
The OSCE PA is committed to continuing this role and expanding our efforts to not only stop the spread of anti-Semitism, but all forms of prejudicial discrimination and xenophobia.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I come to you as a citizen of the world concerned about the decline in civility and absence of compassion and concern for all people that we see today. In this capacity, my agenda is clear: I want to better understand you, your needs, and your aspirations. Before you can help me solve my problems, you must first understand who I am. Understanding will not solve all of today's problems. But it will help us avoid tomorrow's conflicts.
We find ourselves today living in a world of turmoil. The fringe elements of our society have successfully manifested themselves in a way that has created the perception - not reality, but perception - that they are more mainstream than they actually are. This perception has yielded these groups with free press, government attention, and public relations machines, all of which have contributed to their ability to attract new members and grow in exponential numbers.
I am happy to report that the OSCE PA has taken significant steps to address widespread discrimination and xenophobia, particularly anti-Semitism. Our work is paying off, and many of our member states have led or followed suit.
The OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly has done its part to bring the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination to the forefront of the international agenda. We have joined with the OSCE in sponsoring two conferences on anti-Semitism, both of which had the full support and assistance of the ADL and organized Jewish community. Each conference has produced real plans that have yielded positive results.
Furthermore, anti-Semitism continues to be addressed at OSCE PA conferences, meetings, and seminars. It is an issue which I frequently raise as the Parliamentary Assembly's President. As a result of the work that we have done, parliamentarians from the organization's 55 member states have taken the message home with them, and many governments have responded.
Yet despite the OSCE PA's diligent efforts, anti-Semitism continues to show its ugly face. Just last month, for example, a Jewish cemetery in southern England was vandalized with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. We have also seen a resurgence of anti-Semitic attacks and acts in South America. That region has emerged as a veritable safe haven for Middle Eastern-based terrorist organizations, and their presence in places such as Venezuela and Argentina is becoming increasingly clear.
As a global community, we must work harder at further de-legitimatizing the actions and messages of hate-mongers in our society who teach and preach intolerance. The OSCE PA is committed to continuing to lead this effort.
In the United States, we too have taken a tougher stance against all forms of intolerance. The U.S. Helsinki Commission, of which I am a member, has actively pursued avenues in which we can curb all forms of prejudicial discrimination and xenophobia. Congress has passed legislation condemning acts of anti-Semitism and supporting the efforts of the OSCE, and our State Department continues to assist the efforts of other countries.
The increase in anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudicial discrimination that we are seeing today is a direct result of the lackadaisical approach that governments, my own included, took toward so-called "hate groups" over the previous two decades. Correlations can and should be drawn between the uprising of fringe groups and government neglect - whether socially or systemically. When government has failed to address the needs of all of its people, the groups of which we are speaking today have happily filled the void.
A troubling fact is that the networks of these organizations transcend arbitrary political boundaries. Indeed, their influence can easily be seen in the Middle East, South America, Eastern Asia, Northern Africa, and right here in Europe.
In the Middle East, for example, terrorist organizations chartered on the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people have become some of the region's most reliable providers of health care, housing, education, safe food, and clean water. Governments in the countries and territories where groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda are most prevalent and influential have largely failed their people. It should be no surprise to any of us that people flock to those who provide help and assistance when it is needed.
Some in the world have suggested that the recent death of Yassar Arafat affords us the opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and subsequently curb anti-Semitic sentiments in the region.
As the OSCE's Berlin Declaration on combating anti-Semitism correctly notes, "International developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism."
Ultimately, the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be two democratic states living side-by-side. Most importantly, there must be an acceptance on the part of the Arab world of Israel's right to exist. This includes the cessation of teaching hate and cracking down on fringe elements within their society.
The world has an opportunity to help foster peace in the Middle East, and we must not let this opportunity pass us by.
The recent declaration of interim Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas halting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages on government controlled media is a step in the right direction. But more can be and should be done.
Our efforts in this region must not be limited to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however. We must also address the teaching of hate and intolerance in schools and textbooks used in many Middle Eastern counties. We must also hold governments which permit these practices accountable for their inaction toward solving a growing problem.
The future of all forms of tolerance will be born in our own homes and our community schools. Hate breeds hate, and an apathetic attitude toward intolerance is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous.
I am not so naive to believe that we will solve the problems of the world simply through an understanding. But I do believe that we don't talk with one another enough. And when we do talk, we talk about hate. We never mention love.
Although we are here today to talk about anti-Semitism specifically, our focus has to be more global. Those who seek to destroy the world community which so many of us are working toward must be dealt with. But we cannot lose sight of creating a world of understanding, acceptance, and coexistence.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today, and I look forward to the remainder of the conference.