On his return from a European conference on intolerance, Gov. George Pataki last week called on Jewish leaders to keep him involved in their efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
"It’s too important to the future of our country and the world to just say we had a successful conference and it’s over and now we can go back to our lives," said Pataki, a Republican who was asked by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to lead the U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s conference on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance in Cordoba, Spain.
"We’ve got to raise our voices not just to fight anti-Semitism here in New York or in America, but to continue to urge countries that would like to look the other way and pretend [it] doesn’t exist that it is their job as well to be aggressive in understanding and preventing anti-Semitism."
At his Manhattan office last week, Pataki briefed representatives from Jewish organizations on details of the conference. The briefing was closed to the press, but afterward the governor told reporters he was concerned that participants did not share the same commitment as the United States to combating anti-Semitism.
"The conference was a success in that we put out a declaration of the 55 [participating] nations that our countries will stand together to fight ant-Semitism and intolerance of any form," said Pataki. "But what was clear was an undercurrent, particularly in the west European countries and Russia, that they didn’t perceive anti-Semitism as as serious a problem as we believe it is."
While previous conferences had focused only on anti-Semitism, this year the OSCE divided the two-day forum into one day dealing with hate against Jews and another tackling other forms of intolerance, particularly anti-Muslim prejudice, a growing phenomenon since 9-11.
"The interest was there to no longer treat anti-Semitism as a unique form of intolerance with a unique history and unique capability to turn from intolerance to violence to Holocaust," said Pataki.
The governor noted that nearly half the 55 participating nations did not record and catalog incidents against Jews within their borders, as agreed at last year’s conference in Berlin.
"That is a very small step that we should be able to expect," he said.
Accompanying the governor on the delegation was Rabbi Chaim David Zwiebel of Agudath Israel of America; Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles; Sander Ross Gerber of AIPAC; Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslims Coalition; Stephan Minikes, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE; Ambassador Edward O’Donnell, the State Department envoy for Holocaust issues; the Rev. Charles Chaput, archbishop of Denver; and Jennette Bradley, treasurer of the state of Ohio.
In his address on responding to anti-Semitic and hate-motivated crimes, Rabbi Zwiebel recalled for conference participants the 1988 arson that destroyed his Brooklyn synagogue just before the High Holy Days.
"I will never forget participating in the funeral procession for the six Torah scrolls that were burned in the fire … and seeing the anguished horror on the faces of members of the previous generation, Holocaust survivors who thought that the days of synagogue destruction were over," the rabbi said in his remarks. Had an appropriate hate crimes law been in effect at the time (one was passed 12 years later), the attack might not have happened, he said, calling on the European nations to each "create a legal environment in which Jewish families and institutions can thrive."
In New York, Pataki said "the goal of our mission was not just to urge countries to take a more proactive stance individually in their countries to recognize and combat anti-Semitism, but to make sure the OSCE’s commitment to understanding the separate and unique horror that is anti-Semitism be an ongoing part of their agenda against intolerance as they go forward."
Asked if he saw signs of concrete steps being taken against anti-Semitism that emerged from the annual conferences, Pataki told The Jewish Week, "Germany is doing a very real job promoting awareness of the Holocaust, and teaching tolerance and how dangerous and deadly anti-Semitism is."
Pressed by an Israeli reporter on which nations seemed most lackadaisical about anti-Semitism, the governor said, "Certainly Russia was not as supportive as we would have liked. Belgium is becoming the next head of the OSCE, and their delegation is unsure whether or not [the organization] needs a special representative to fight anti-Semitism. We have urged them to continue what we have now and we are hopeful they will, although they were initially reluctant."
Pataki is the third New York political figure to be asked by the Bush administration to represent the United States at the OSCE conference. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani attended the conference in Vienna in 2003, and former Mayor Ed Koch went last year, alongside then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Pataki’s participation comes amid speculation on his political future. He is mulling whether to seek a fourth term in Albany or run for national office, as widely expected.
"Whether he asked for this or not, he certainly welcomes it," said political consultant and Albany lobbyist Norman Adler. "He’s done very well with the Jewish community."