Jews are like canaries in coal mines, an early warning system, according to former New York Mayor Edward Koch, who will head the U.S. delegation to an international conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin next week.
The delegation will include Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Monitoring and quelling anti-Jewish acts is a way of safeguarding all minorities, said Koch.
“The physical violence against Jews in France, Belgium and Holland are the warnings of what is yet to come [against other people],” he explained. “It’s cyclical. It’s what happened in Nazi Germany.”
Koch said he will be making this point when he meets with representatives of the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at the group’s second gathering dealing exclusively with anti-Semitism.
“I don’t know if it will have an impact on them,” he said, “but it should.”
The American delegation consists of three members of Congress, several officials of the Bush administration and five members of the public, including representatives of the American Jewish Congress and the Orthodox Union.
Powell’s participation, announced just last week, underscores the importance Washington is giving to raising awareness about anti-Semitism and to identifying measures that will promote tolerance.
A partner in the Manhattan law firm of Bryan Cave LLP, Koch said he hopes Powell’s presence would encourage other countries to send senior government officials rather than “lower level” diplomatic officials.
“The issue is extremely important and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” he said. “But it often does when people in high office make it clear they are there to participate in the discussion.”
Some delegations at last year’s conference in Vienna wanted to adopt proposals calling on each country to keep track of anti-Semitic incidents within its borders. That did not happen, though, and Koch said that was the reason why the U.S. pressed for a second conference in the hope of getting countries to agree to such monitoring.
Decisions by the 55-member body must be unanimous, making bold statements difficult, if not impossible.
“I don’t know that it will happen [this year], but you must never give up the fight,” he said. “Getting the second meeting itself was an extraordinary accomplishment because it was over the objections of a number of people.”
Another former New York mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, headed the U.S. delegation in Vienna.
A study released this week by the Stephen Roth Institute of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University found a 15 percent increase in the number of “serious” anti-Semitic incidents last year worldwide — 360 compared with 311 in 2002.
Countries cited with the highest number of incidents were France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany and Canada.
The institute attributed the increase in violent attacks on Jews in Europe to primarily young immigrant Muslims who are upset with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Right-wing European anti-Semites are more likely to vandalize synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, according to the study.
The study is in contrast to a report released last month by the European Union’s European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, which blamed young white males for the attacks on Jews.
Koch said he agreed with the Roth Institute’s study and said the EU’s failure to acknowledge the reality of the situation “shows they are ostriches with their heads in the sand. But they are people, not dumb birds. It may be understandable for an ostrich but not human beings elected to provide security for all the people who live in their respective countries.”
Asked why Europeans are reluctant to deal with the problem directly, Koch said: “The EU members have been inundated with Muslim immigrants and many of them are Islamic fundamentalist fanatics, particularly in France, where 10 percent of the population is Muslim. In order to keep them quiet, they concluded that the physical violence comes from traditional right-wing skinheads who are not necessarily Muslim.
“I’m sure some of it does. But the reports that seem credible — particularly from France, Belgium and Holland, which have been inundated with Islamic immigrants — are that it is the Islamic fanatics who are engaging in violence.”
Betty Ehrenberg, a foreign policy expert at the Orthodox Union, said she plans to speak at the conference about Muslims when she discusses the new anti-Semitism, which she defined as a “combination of the classic old anti-Semitism combined with radical Muslim hatred of Jews in Israel.”
“It needs to be recognized and not ignored,” she said.
The French government initially failed to act before the 2002 national election for fear of alienating Muslim voters, Koch said. But he applauded the government crackdown since the election and its “statement that an attack on a Jew is an attack against France.”
Koch said he would be participating in a workshop at the conference that deals with bias in the media. He also said he plans to deliver a 10-minute statement calling on countries that control the media to “make sure their press is told to be fair and avoid anti-Semitic material and stereotypical characteristics.”
For instance, he said that although Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, Egyptian TV aired a strongly anti-Semitic series adapted from the classic anti-Jewish work “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and NCSJ (formerly the National Council on Soviet Jewry), have been invited to attend the conference as consultants to the American delegation.