The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe began a two-day conference on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance Wednesday in Cordoba, Spain. What can it accomplish?
Just one sign of continuing intolerance in Europe
The main aim of the conference is to find ways of fighting discrimination and intolerance against Jews, Muslims and Christians living in Europe and around the Mediterranean, and to explore the role of government, civil society and the media in this initiative.
German Jewish leader Paul Spiegel (left) during the 2004 Berlin conference
Although some observers may question how much of a difference a two-day conference can make, Jose Lopez Jorrin, the event's organizer, pointed to concrete measures resulting from last year's meeting as proof that such a gathering can bring forth more than hollow words.
At the 2004 conference in Berlin, the 55 participating states signed a resolution condemning "unreservedly all manifestations of anti-Semitism," as well as "acts of intolerance, incitement, assaults or violence."
At the time, participants pledged to collect information on acts of anti-Semitism and keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. So far, a database has been established to record hate crimes and various education initiatives have started.
Preventing future hatred
Wolfgang Benz, head of the Berlin Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, said although the measures put forth by the OSCE conference may seem self-evident, they are not.
"If it were obvious, then there would be no anti-Semitism," he said. "Instead, there are many member states in the OSCE in which, unlike Germany, anti-Semitism is not criminalized or even frowned upon."
Progress in the area of Holocaust education, which since last year's Berlin conference has been seen as the key to fighting anti-Semitism, is particularly critical, said OSCE official Gert Weisskirchen, who was chosen at the beginning of the year to head up the organization's fight on anti-Semitism.
"We must again include the schools in this fight and better explain the Holocaust to young people so that it can never happen again," he said.
But Benz said that knowledge of the Holocaust isn't an automatic vaccine against anti-Semitism.
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"Of course it plays a role and can be used for civic education," he said. "But instead of just teaching about the systematic murder of Jews in Europe, we need to teach young people today to be tolerant of other people and their culture, because students often react in an allergic manner to history, asking, 'What do things that happened 60 years ago have to do with us?'"
Different motives in expanded EU
Although much has changed in Europe since the 2004 conference, it is too soon to make a single diagnosis of anti-Semitism after the widening of the EU last May. For example, the desecration of graves with anti-Semitic graffiti in France arises out of different motivations than anti-Jewish sentiments broadcast on the conservative, religious Polish radio station Radio Maryja, which again differs from from those of the neo-Nazi party, the NPD, in the German state parliament of Saxony.
"Anti-Semitism, first and foremost, expresses itself as a national concern," Benz said. "It remains to be seen how it will play out after the widening of the EU."
These days, it has also become clearer that critics of globalization are increasingly an effective conduit for anti-Semitism.
Neo-Nazis at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
In fact, one of the strangest alliances is that between the right and the left, Benz said: sights of neo-Nazis marching side-by-side with left-wing radicals and hippies at demonstrations is not uncommon. This uncanny grouping has built itself up as a front against supposed international conspiracies.
"Classic anti-Semitism is also fuelled by conspiracy theories," Benz said. "That is why those opponents of globalization are particularly susceptible."