Ladies and Gentlemen:
Before I deliver my prepared remarks on behalf of B’nai B’rith International and its many thousands of members in more than 50 countries, I would like to thank Silvio José Albuquerque of the Brazilian Mission to the Organization of American States for his work in convening such an important meeting and for allowing me to address this Working Group.
What is B’nai B’rith?
For 162 years, B’nai B’rith International has worked for the well-being of Jews around the world. In October 1843, 12 German-Jewish immigrants meeting in New York’s Lower East Side founded what would become one of the most widely-respected international service organizations based in the United States. Its name – B’nai B’rith, Hebrew for "Children of the Covenant" – mirrored its purpose: uniting Jews as a community in service to the world at large. Since our earliest days, BBI has advocated for human rights and a better society for all here in the United States and in dozens of countries worldwide.
Eighty years ago, B’nai B’rith established its first branch in Argentina, the nation with the largest Jewish population in Latin America. Today we have active members in Units and Districts in over 20 nations in the Western Hemisphere, including in Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Our work in the region consists of regular communication with government officials, dialogue with religious leaders, and humanitarian relief to various countries’ neediest populations – not just the Jewish community. In the last few years, we – along with our partner, humanitarian assistance organization Brother’s Brother – have helped facilitate the donation of over $40 million worth of medical supplies and medicines to numerous countries in the region.
Jewish Presence in the Hemisphere
The Jewish community in the Americas dates back to Christopher Columbus’s voyage from Spain to the New World. In fact, Rodrigo De Triana, a Spanish Jew, is remembered as the first person to sight land on Columbus’s trip to discover the New World. On the very day of his departure, Isabella I and Ferdinand II – the reigning Spanish monarchs – decreed that the Jews of Spain would have to either convert to Catholicism or leave the country. The expulsion from Spain was one of several such episodes across Europe, including in Portugal (1497), England (1290), and France (1182).
In the New World, Jews began to settle in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of the hemisphere, where they believed they could lead lives as free Jews without fearing the Inquisition. Jewish communities sprang up and flourished in the Caribbean and Central and South America. By the 16th Century, functioning Jewish communities had formed in Brazil, Suriname, Curacao, Jamaica, and Barbados; in Cuba and Mexico, there were “unorganized” Jewish communities because the Inquisition was still active in those Spanish colonies.
This short historical overview demonstrates that the origin of Jewish life in the Americas dates back hundreds of years. This year, Jews in the United States have been celebrating 350 years of our community in North America. Today, the Jewish population in North America numbers about six million; South America has roughly 360,000 Jews, and Mexico and Central America combined have more than 50,000. For these past few centuries, Jews in the Western Hemisphere generally have lived a life of relative prosperity and freedom under the various governments of the region.
Since 2000, however, we have seen the overall number of attacks against Jewish communities increase in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America alike. Too often anti-Semitic acts have not been recognized for the hate crimes that they are. While the level of anti-Semitism in Latin America may not be on par with that of Europe, we –civil society organizations and member-states of the Organization of American States –must not turn a blind eye to the hatred that debases our society and threatens all of us.
Examples of Anti-Semitism
Even though there have been more than a few incidents of anti-Semitism in our part of the world, I want to mention just several examples in the largest Jewish communities in Latin America.
In 2000, plans were announced for a “congress” of neo-Nazis, to be held in Chile. These racists have shown their continued ability to infiltrate and undermine democratic societies, which they do through the spreading of their vile materials across the region. Such dangerous extremist groups need to be met with society’s outrage and the full force of the law.
We have seen anti-Semitism threaten the 110,000-person Jewish community of Brazil. In the last few years, we have seen the number of people joining organizations of carecas, or skinheads, increase at an alarming rate. Today, there are over 30 carecas groups in the larger metropolises of Brazil; each group includes neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic ideas in its core message.
Let me give you an example of some incidents that took place in Brazil. In September 2003, a swastika and the words “Hitler is alive, Die punks” were found near the Porto Alegre Jewish Community Center. The next month, large swastikas were spray-painted on the Beit Yaakov Synagogue in Campinas with “Kill all Jews” written in English nearby. According to experts that monitor neo-Nazi groups in the United States, Brazil and Israel, this may not have been the work of such groups, who normally use Portuguese to convey their views; it has been suggested that at the very least, Middle Eastern hate organizations may have influenced local operatives who carried out these acts. The B’nai B’rith lodge in Campinas demanded that police take action to find those responsible for this vandalism. By October 13, the Municipal Assembly of the City of Campinas and the Municipal Assembly of Sao Paulo condemned the graffiti. Moreover, the media, including Diaro de Sao Paulo, Journal Da Tarde and Folha de Sao Paulo, condemned this attack on the community.
Today, Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with a population of roughly 200,000. According to the most recent annual report of Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Extremism, the overall level of anti-Semitic incidents in Argentina has remained at a relatively “stable” level with 177 incidents in 2003, 149 in 2002, and 185 in 2001. These incidents include such crimes as defacing Jewish and public property with Nazi swastikas.
All anti-Semitic incidents are crimes that need to be taken seriously by governments and law enforcement officials, and any anti-Semitic crime is one too many. However, one specific pair of anti Semitic attacks over a decade ago is particularly deserving of notoriety.
On July 18, 1994 at 9:53 a.m., a van loaded with a powerful ammonium-nitrate bomb exploded through the front of the seven-story Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building – the central location for Jewish communal activities – killing 85 people and wounding more than 300. This was the second terrorist attack on a Jewish target in Argentina in two years. In 1992, terrorists struck the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29.
Yet to this day not a single person or group has been convicted for the atrocities. Over the years, corruption, excessive bureaucracy, and concealed intelligence have hindered the investigation. The Argentine Jewish community, even after all these years, cannot feel at peace until justice has been served. The international Jewish community will not rest until the perpetrators of these most heinous anti-Semitic crimes are found and brought to justice. What happened to the AMIA was an attack on Argentina, as much as an attack on the Jewish community. And we note, with much encouragement, the Kirschner administration’s recent expressions of a redoubled commitment to bringing the AMIA case to a fitting and just resolution.
Additionally, we can’t forget about another form of anti-Semitism manifesting itself throughout the region. Incitement against Israel in Latin American media, by public officials, or by elements within the public, contributes to an atmosphere of intolerance toward Jews. We recognize that the sources of much of the hatred are not homegrown, but rather imported from the Middle East. But whatever the origin, this vilification of the State of Israel has become the new face anti-Semitism.
No political position, cause or grievance can ever justify anti-Semitism. In our view, the de-legitimization and demonization of Israel is often none other than anti-Semitism in disguise. All nations experience criticism in one way or another. But the outright denial of the Jewish right to self-determination is anti-Semitism. To intimidate and incite against Israel and Israelis – in schoolbooks, sermons, television broadcasts, or Internet materials – as an alternate means of attacking Jews, is most certainly anti-Semitism.
The depiction of Israelis as child-killers or as Nazis is where political criticism dangerously crosses the line into hatred, intolerance, and anti-Semitism.
The Role of the United Nations and Organization of American States
As these anti-Semitic attacks – as well as the hundreds of other incidents that have taken place in the region – have not been the last, the global community as a whole has finally awakened to the fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise and that the nations of the world must work together to combat it.
In December 2004, the United States, Russia, Canada, the European Union, Australia, Israel and New Zealand called on United Nations member-states to support the holding of a UN General Assembly special session on January 24, 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This was the first time in the United Nations’ 60-year history that the world body acknowledged, in German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s words, “the 20th Century’s ultimate crime against humanity.” In order for such a session to take place, letters of support needed to come from 90 nations; I am pleased to say that over 25 OAS member-states wrote letters in support of this event.
B’nai B’rith decided to build on this positive momentum to forge an international commitment to combating anti-Semitism. It was in light of this that we suggested the possibility of creating a stand-alone OAS resolution denouncing anti-Semitism at the OAS plenary in Ft. Lauderdale.
Although a number of nations agreed that such a resolution was possible, some argued that the timing was not right. Since anti-Semitism in Latin American is not at the level it is at in Europe, various nations said, it did not warrant a stand-alone resolution. Nevertheless, Brazil, Argentina, and the United States supported the addition of the word “anti-Semitism” into Resolution 51, which discussed the prevention of racism and intolerance. In the end, the relevant clause said the OAS is:
“Deeply disturbed by the general increase in different parts of the world of cases of intolerance of, and violence against, members of many religious communities, including those motivated by Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and Christianophia.”
With this language, the OAS formally accepted the fact that intolerance – religious or otherwise – exists and needs to be proactively addressed at the national and international levels.
Suggestions for the Future
Questions, however, remain: Where do we go from here? How do we build upon the framework established by the OAS for a future without racism, intolerance, discrimination, and anti-Semitism?
Some of the suggestions that I will discuss can be incorporated into the Inter-American Convention Against Racism or pursued as separate initiatives of the OAS.
Model of the Berlin Declaration
First, and most importantly, a major resolution with specific goals should be issued on anti-Semitism. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) 2004 Berlin Declaration can be used as a model for such a resolution. The OSCE-convened Berlin conference on combating anti-Semitism was the first time that international leaders forged a concrete working plan to tackle anti-Semitism. In some cases, the Berlin meeting – as well as the Vienna conference in 2003 and the Cordoba meeting this past summer – was the first time that government leaders acknowledged both their countries’ histories of involvement in the Holocaust and present-day manifestations of anti-Semitism within their borders.
After nearly a year of negotiations, discussions, and consultations between the OSCE’s 55 member-states from Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and North America – and non-governmental organizations in the region – the OSCE agreed to the Berlin Declaration.
The goals of the Berlin Declaration are universal and can easily be applied to Latin America. The Declaration:
• Condemns all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance;
• Promotes educational programs that combat anti-Semitism and other forms of hate;
• Urges the combating of hate crimes;
• Institutes the monitoring of hate crimes; and
• Encourages dialogue exchanges between experts and governments.
Other suggestions that should be considered by the OAS come under the framework of best practices. Governments, civil society members, and various experts could be assembled at an international conference to discuss concrete, effective actions that are being taken by various countries and groups against discrimination.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials – at the local, state, and national levels – need to be educated about hate crimes. Crimes based on religion, nationality, race, or sexual orientation cannot be ignored by police or others in the law enforcement community. Officers need to be able to recognize hate crimes, target incendiary materials issued by extremist groups, and be prepared to counter attacks targeting minorities. There are organizations with expertise in training police that can help develop additional course materials specifically on hate crimes. These programs need to be expanded outside the United States and into regions where hate crimes are still occurring.
Another best-practices method relates to anti-discrimination laws. OAS member-states need to follow the lead of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay and enact such legislation.
Governments need to be more transparent. Ministries of the Interior and Justice, which maintain data on attacks, need to institute regulations and standards for statistics on hate crimes. The OSCE has an agency called the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights – ODIHR – based in Warsaw; it observes elections, democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and the rule of law. This body monitors, collects, and analyzes not only anti-Semitic activity in the OSCE nations, but also other forms of hate crimes. Member-states must still be encouraged to be forthcoming about reporting such crimes that take place in their countries, but slowly these 55 OSCE nations are accepting responsibility for tracking their hate crimes. The ODIHR model could easily be applied to the OAS’s highly respected Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is empowered to monitor and collect data on hate crimes.
We need to encourage democracies to flourish, poverty to be eradicated, and economic progress to increase. Poverty in Latin America affects 100 million people and it contributes to the growth of violence. Earlier this month, the heads of government of the OAS nations met in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to stress that democracy needs bolstering and the people of the hemisphere need economic stability. We must ensure that these goals were not mere platitudes, but practical priorities for the leaders of the region. We need to maintain awareness that discrimination is an impediment to the growth of democracy, civil and human rights, and socio-economic progress.
During the UN’s special session in January, Secretary-General Kofi Annan cautioned the world to be alert for a revival of anti-Semitism, and to be ready to act against its new forms emerging today. “We must be vigilant against all ideologies based on hatred and exclusion, whenever and wherever they may appear,” he said.
On behalf of the Jewish community, we pledge to you our partnership and resolve in creating a hemisphere rid of anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred.
THE BERLIN DECLARATION
Let me sum up the proceedings of this Conference in what I would like to call
Based on consultations I conclude that OSCE participating States,
Reaffirming the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which proclaims that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, religion or other status,
Recalling that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,
Recalling also the decisions of the OSCE Ministerial Councils at Porto and Maastricht, as well as previous decisions and documents, and committing ourselves to intensify efforts to combat anti-Semitism in all its manifestations and to promote and strengthen tolerance and non-discrimination,
Recognizing that anti-Semitism, following its most devastating manifestation during the Holocaust, has assumed new forms and expressions, which, along with other forms of intolerance, pose a threat to democracy, the values of civilization and, therefore, to overall security in the OSCE region and beyond,
Concerned in particular that this hostility toward Jews -- as individuals or collectively – on racial, social, and/or religious grounds, has manifested itself in verbal and physical attacks and in the desecration of synagogues and cemeteries,
1. Condemn without reserve all manifestations of anti-Semitism, and all other acts of intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur;
2. Also condemn all attacks motivated by anti-Semitism or by any other forms of religious or racial hatred or intolerance, including attacks against synagogues and other religious places, sites and shrines;
3. Declare unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism;
In addition, I note that the Maastricht Ministerial Council in its Decision on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination, tasked the Permanent Council “to further discuss ways and means of increasing the efforts of the OSCE and the participating States for the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination in all fields.” In light of this Ministerial Decision, I welcome the April 22 Permanent Council Decision on Combating Anti-Semitism and, in accordance with that Decision, incorporate it into this Declaration.
4. The OSCE participating States commit to:
- Strive to ensure that their legal systems foster a safe environment free from anti-Semitic harassment, violence or discrimination in all fields of life;
- Promote, as appropriate, educational programmes for combating anti-Semitism;
- Promote remembrance of and, as appropriate, education about the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the importance of respect for all ethnic and religious groups;
- Combat hate crimes, which can be fuelled by racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda in the media and on the Internet;
- Encourage and support international organization and NGO efforts in these areas;
- Collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about anti-Semitic crimes, and other hate crimes, committed within their territory, report such information periodically to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and make this information available to the public;
- Endeavour to provide the ODIHR with the appropriate resources to accomplish the tasks agreed upon in the Maastricht Ministerial Decision on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination;
- Work with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to determine appropriate ways to review periodically the problem of anti-Semitism;
- Encourage development of informal exchanges among experts in appropriate fora on best practices and experiences in law enforcement and education;
5. To task the ODIHR to:
- Follow closely, in full co-operation with other OSCE institutions as well as the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD), the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) and other relevant international institutions and NGOs, anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE area making use of all reliable information available;
- Report its findings to the Permanent Council and to the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting and make these findings public. These reports should also be taken into account in deciding on priorities for the work of the OSCE in the area of intolerance; and
- Systematically collect and disseminate information throughout the OSCE area on best practices for preventing and responding to anti-Semitism and, if requested, offer advice to participating States in their efforts to fight anti-Semitism;
This Decision will be forwarded to the Ministerial Council for endorsement at its Twelfth Meeting.