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Europe

Opinion: Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Berlin

This week's anti-Semitism conference in Berlin didn't offer a panacea for the growing problem, but it did push the issue back into the European Union's political agenda.

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The Bulgarian Foreign Minister gave his German colleague the star his granddad had to wear during the Holocaust

Nearly 60 years after the fall of Hitler's regime, the 55 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a so-called "Berlin declaration" with concrete measures for battling anti-Semitism, while also condemning every form of xenophobia toward Jews. The agreement aims at better anchoring the fight against anti-Semitism in both legislation and the education system and mandates that xenophobic and anti-Semitic acts of violence be monitored at the OSCE level and documented in an annual report.

The symbolic power of the conference was lost on no one. Decades after the genocide of the European Jews, in precisely the city where the Nazis made the decision to commit the crime, a German government invited the states of the OSCE to discuss the issue of anti-Semitism. The conference linked the meeting with the commitment to Germany's continuing historical and moral responsibility. Nobody in the German government personifies this responsibility more persuasively that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who also spoke at the conference.

Anti-Semitism challenges human dignity and it concerns all of us, Fischer said. And in reality: Hostility towards Jews has in no way been historically resolved. It is still virulent and poses a threat. Nor is it limited to individual cases -- long ago it left the backrooms and right-wing subcultures. Anti-Semitism has today settled into the center of society, in Eastern as well as Western Europe. It is rampant in fundamental Catholic milieus as well as circles of leftist anti-globalization activists and fundamentalist Islamist who are prepared to perpetrate violence. It manifests itself in particularly repugnant ways over the Internet.

Instead of offering patent remedies for the fight against anti-Semitism, the conference in Berlin discussed a diversity of possibilities for countering it. Encouragement was also given to the numerous initiatives and non-government organizations that do the painstaking legwork in the campaign for a culture of tolerance.

But the question still persists after the conference of who, exactly, the well-meaning declaration is intended to reach. Those who foster and nourish resentment towards Jews for ideological reasons, and perhaps even feel justified in committing violent acts, will not be impressed by declamations. And the urgent call for applying the measures in practice glances the limit of what's possible, though education programs could possibly still win over youth who cavort in an atmosphere of anti-Semitic propaganda.

Was the conference in view of a disquieting reality merely an act of self-reassurance? Maybe. People from 65 countries who are sensitized to and conscious of the problem met in Berlin. And they put the issue of anti-Semitism on the European agenda immediately before the European Union's eastward enlargement. And it must remain there. The new member states doubtlessly need to do some catching-up in dealing with the past. Help and support are necessary, not stigmatization and ostracism.

The OSCE wisely rejected all unsolicited suggestions at the conference for dealing with the Middle East conflict and all the emotions it entails. But, in a positive development, the conference did succeed in making clear that there is a difference between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, which Israel seeks to deny, and latent anti-Semitism.

In that sense, the OSCE conference did send a signal: First and foremost, a signal of solidarity with Jews who live in fear and uncertainty. Attacks against Jews, desecration of cemeteries and synagogues and the daily verbal harassment won't be accepted.

Meanwhile, honing our consciousness for blanket prejudices, stereotypes and resentments is something we each must tackle individually.

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