U.S. National Statement for the OSCE Conference on Addressing Antisemitism in the OSCE Region

The 2023 Skopje Conference on Addressing Anti-Semitism in the OSCE region (© Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia)

U.S. National Statement for the OSCE Conference on Addressing Antisemitism in the OSCE Region

As prepared for delivery by Deputy Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Antisemitism, Aaron Keyak ·
to the OSCE Conference on Addressing Antisemitism in the OSCE Region
February 7, 2023

The United States commends North Macedonia for its leadership in convening this meeting on combating antisemitism early in its Chairmanship.  I am also pleased to be with you to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the landmark 2003 OSCE Maastricht Ministerial Council Decision No. 4/03 on Tolerance and Non-discrimination.  We look forward to carrying on the tradition of our predecessors’ strong engagement in the OSCE.  U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Ambassador Lipstadt, regrets that she was not able to be here today.    

The OSCE has undertaken pioneering work on combating antisemitism, starting with the historic 2004 Berlin Conference through to the adoption of the 2014 Basel Declaration and continued thanks to the tireless efforts of Rabbi Baker and his fellow Tolerance Representatives.  I am grateful for the vital work of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in its efforts to combat antisemitism through its Tolerance and Nondiscrimination program and also its hate crimes documentation work.  I also applaud the impressive work of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Combating Antisemitism, Racism, and Intolerance, Senator Cardin.  

As we meet here in Skopje, I am moved to note that this year marks the 80th anniversary of the deportation by occupying forces of nearly all of North Macedonia’s Jewish population to the Treblinka death camp.  Historical records show that virtually all North Macedonia’s pre-war Jewish population was murdered.On January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ambassador Lipstadt was at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp with the Second Gentleman of the United States, Mr. Douglas Emhoff.  She joined the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues in observing the solemn commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust and observed the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the camp.  

As our delegation stood on that hallowed ground, commemorating the murdered, and honoring the survivors, we all were acutely aware that antisemitism is not a relic of a dark past, but very much a real and present danger in our world today.  Antisemitism continues to rise in the United States, in Europe, and around the world.  It is critically important to call out antisemitism and take effective action against it wherever and whenever it arises, offline or online, and in whatever forms it may take:  some are blatant, such as physical violence, vicious slurs, ugly stereotypes, or wild conspiracy theories.  Some forms are perhaps less blatant, more subtle but still dangerous, such as when political figures use antisemitic dog-whistles and tropes, or when historic figures who were notorious antisemites are held up as national heroes, or when governments and individuals engage in antisemitism in the insidious form of Holocaust denial and distortion.  

We must also recognize the interconnectedness of all forms of hatred and prejudice.  Antisemitism is often accompanied by or is a precursor to intolerance directed against members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, racial groups, and other vulnerable populations, such as Muslim communities, migrants, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ individuals.     

Raising awareness of the dangers of antisemitism in all its manifestations and of the interconnectedness of antisemitism with other forms of hate are two of the biggest priorities of Ambassador Lipstadt and our team.  My office works closely with the Office of International Religious Freedom to combat hate and protect human rights for all persons regardless of their religion, belief or non-belief.   I have appreciated this opportunity to share our work in these areas and to amplify the United States’ firm commitment to countering rising global antisemitism and, in concert with the Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, promoting Holocaust remembrance.    

Manifestations of antisemitism are often the first indicators of a growing sickness in a society that, if left unchecked, can give space to other intolerances, threaten stability, and challenge human rights and democratic principles.  As we know all too well, we in the United States share the threat and the terror of the alarming rise in global antisemitism.  We recently observed the first anniversary of the Colleyville, Texas, hostage-taking, where a group of people gathering to worship were held hostage and threatened with death on account of their Jewish faith.  As President Biden said after the attack, “We will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.  That is who we are.”      

In December, President Biden established a new interagency group comprised of more than twenty federal agencies to increase and better coordinate U.S. Government efforts to counter antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of bias and discrimination within the United States.  The President tasked the interagency group, as its first order of business, to develop a national strategy to counter antisemitism, and we are actively engaged in that effort.  This strategy – which will no doubt draw upon, and benefit from, the excellent strategies being developed by countries in the OSCE region – will raise understanding about antisemitism and the threat it poses to the Jewish community and all Americans.  Our national strategy will address antisemitic harassment and abuse, both online and offline, seek to prevent antisemitic attacks and incidents, and encourage whole-of-society efforts to counter antisemitism and build a more inclusive nation.  We in the United States and our fellow OSCE participating States are working toward a day when attending synagogue to pray does not, in fact, require an act of courage – which is the sad reality in many countries in this region, my own included.   

The conversations we have had here in Skopje and elsewhere in Europe and beyond have impressed upon us the crucial need for building strong coalitions against antisemitism and other hatreds among governments, multilateral bodies such as the OSCE and the UN, civil society organizations, belief communities, and the private sector.  None of us can effectively address these issues alone.    

Nor can any of us fail to see the interconnectedness of antisemitism with other forms of hate.  Antisemitism cannot be fought in a silo.  OSCE’s important Tolerance programs have advanced effective strategies tailored to countering antisemitism while also addressing other forms of intolerance.  

In the OSCE region and around the world, the response to antisemitism by all people and governments needs to be concerted and comprehensive.  We commend governments that have named dedicated envoys or coordinators to combat antisemitism and that have issued or are developing national strategies against antisemitism.  We applaud the EU leadership for their overarching strategy to combat antisemitism and protect Jewish life.  

Speaking of outstanding leadership, I would be remiss not to mention the superlative efforts of Coordinator Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s “uber-envoy” who has transformed the way many European governments not only tackle the problem, but also how they view and understand it.   

Recognizing the many forms that antisemitism takes is fundamental to addressing it effectively.  That is why successive United States administrations of both political stripes have embraced the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) legally nonbinding Working Definition of Antisemitism, including its examples.  We commend North Macedonia for adopting the working definition in 2018 and for becoming a full-fledged member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2021.  We encourage all participating States that have not yet embraced the working definition to do so and to put it into practice.  

When we speak about what antisemitism is, we must also recognize what isn’t manifestly an expression of this hatred. Recklessly blurring the line or falsely weaponizing the charge of antisemitism harms the overall fight and downplays the real physical and societal danger of antisemites   

Over the last two days, together we have shared practical and promising ways to help raise awareness of antisemitism and counter it in its many manifestations.  Our discussions in Skopje will inform our efforts as we work in this region and globally across a number of key areas of concern.  U.S. priorities include:  promoting the security of Jewish communities; honoring pledges made at the 2021 Malmö Forum and encouraging others to do likewise; leveraging positive changes in the Arab world and in other Muslim-majority countries to foster interfaith tolerance and understanding, particularly between Muslims and Jews; and educating diverse communities about antisemitism.  

At this conference, we have voiced particular alarm about the misuse by antisemites and other hatemongers of the Internet and social media to spread their vile messages with unprecedented speed and reach, and to connect with one another, posing potentially dangerous, real-world consequences for individuals and societies.  There is no simple solution to this complicated problem. It will require government investment, public-private partnerships, connecting with civil society, and tapping into local resources that can provide context on specific forms of antisemitism to the tech platforms moderating it.  We look forward to working with all of you to counter antisemitism online, while respecting freedom of expression.  Freedom of expression does not mean that we sit idly by when haters exploit these technologies and open societies to spread abuse and fuel extremism.    

We also look forward to working with all of you on an aspect of combating antisemitism to which our Special Envoy has devoted much of her life: condemning and countering Holocaust denial and distortion, which regrettably remains a timely issue.  My government and many others represented in this room have condemned the Russian Government’s claim that democratic Ukraine needs to be “de-nazified.”  Not only is this rhetoric appalling because it paints a false narrative to justify Russia’s aggression, it is also unconscionable.  To serve its ends, the Kremlin is instrumentalizing the profound suffering and sacrifice of those who lived through World War II and survived the Holocaust, and insults the memories of those who perished.  In the process, the Kremlin is distracting from critically important worldwide efforts to combat antisemitism and one of antisemitism’s most insidious forms, Holocaust distortion.  With antisemitism on the rise around the world, it is incumbent that we all call out this particularly pernicious kind of disinformation.   

Before closing, it is important to voice a serious religious freedom concern affecting Jewish, as well as Muslim, communities in some OSCE participating States.  Some countries already have laws, and in others legislation has been proposed, banning ritual animal slaughter.  Bans on the fundamental practice of non-medical circumcision have also been entertained from time to time.  Such bans on religious practices have deeply negative impacts not just on these communities, but on broader free and inclusive societies. In October, I was pleased to be present in Brussels for a high-level EU-hosted Ministerial meeting regarding the efforts of some European countries to pass laws banning religious slaughter with no exemption for religious and cultural practices.  While it is not necessarily an issue of antisemitism – the motivation for these laws is more often related to promoting animal welfare – any time conditions are created that make it difficult if not impossible for Jews to live in a community, particularly in Europe with its history of devastation of Jews, it could ultimately be perceived as an act of antisemitism.  It certainly is an issue of right to freedom of religion or belief, which is enshrined in many European countries’ constitutions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international law.  It is incumbent upon all of us to safeguard the human rights of all people.    

The United States looks forward to continuing to work with each of you here today, the Chairmanship, its invaluable Personal Representative Rabbi Andrew Baker, and with partners of good will throughout the OSCE region, to combat antisemitism and all forms of intolerance.  

I again applaud North Macedonia its principled leadership, and I thank you for giving me the floor.