Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 3: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 3: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

Addressing Racism, Xenophobia, Discrimination and Intolerance

As prepared for delivery by Aaron Keyak,
Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism
Warsaw, October 5, 2023

Racism, antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, prejudice against Christian denominations not affiliated with the State, xenophobia, and other hatreds have a corrosive effect on societies, eroding trust, creating division, and interfering with social cohesion.  Intolerance, discrimination, prejudice, and hatred cannot be successfully fought in silos.  We must recognize the common threads that bind forms of hatred and develop comprehensive approaches to counter them and address their underlying causes.

As the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, I wish to draw attention to the alarming increase in antisemitic incidents — some of them violent, deadly attacks. The rise in such acts of dehumanization and hate is happening at a time when attacks on various marginalized racial, ethnic, Indigenous, religious, LGBTQI+ and other marginalized communities are surging.   

It is also happening as we are witnessing a dangerous decline in the commitment to democratic institutions and values.  Thus, because of the rise in hatred at national, regional, and global levels, we must all work together to address it.  

When it comes to antisemitism, in 2022 the United States had its highest number of antisemitic incidents ever, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League – up more than a third over 2021.  Authorities in Germany, France, Austria, and Spain all reported a dramatic increase in such incidents in 2022 as well.  In many more countries across the OSCE region, Jewish communities fear for their security.    

In some participating States, irresponsible leaders and public figures continue to hold up as heroes notorious antisemites from their country’s past; exploit ethnic, religious, racial, and other differences; or otherwise fan flames of hatred to advance their political aims.  The Kremlin’s despicable attempts to instrumentalize the history of the Holocaust and the Second World War to try to justify Russia’s bloody aggression against democratic Ukraine is an affront to Holocaust victims and survivors and to all who fought Nazism.  We must continue to confront the lies spread by Russia and others to foster intolerance and discrimination in our societies and undermine our democracies. 

At the same time, we must acknowledge that combating misinformation and disinformation alone is not enough to effectively address deeply entrenched prejudice and discrimination.  We must also work to tackle the structural racism and xenophobia built into discriminatory laws, regulations, and practices that exclude members of racial, ethnic, Indigenous, religious, LGBTQI+, and other communities from equitable access to civic and political participation, economic development, and full enjoyment of their human rights.

Today, those who hate are increasingly connected to each other, including through their use of technologies of unprecedented speed and reach.  We see interconnections, whether direct or inspirational, between domestic and international racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.    

For example, antisemitism can manifest as a conspiracy theory, such as the Great Replacement Theory, which combines hatred against Jews with anti-Black racism, anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobia, and hatred against people of African descent, among others.  This conspiracy theory claims that Jews are attempting to destroy white America by replacing white Christian majorities with people of color. 

The murderer in the grocery store shooting in Buffalo, New York in May 2022, who took 10 precious lives, made clear he came to kill Black people.  But they were not his only intended target.  In his Internet posting, the killer wrote that Jews had to be (quote) “removed from our Western civilization in any way possible” and that (quote) “the Jews would be dealt with in time.”  The shooter in Buffalo plagiarized his rantings from those of the killer in Christchurch, New Zealand, who murdered 51 Muslims and injured 40 more in two different mosques.  And the Buffalo murderer acknowledged being inspired to try to live stream his attack by the murderer in Halle, Germany in 2019.  In that violent incident of hate, the killer couldn’t break the door of the synagogue to murder worshippers inside on Yom Kippur, so he turned his weapon on random passersby.

These acts of violent hatred did not emerge from a vacuum.  Like the vast majority of Americans, President Biden was appalled when, in Charlottesville in 2017, neo-Nazis marched spouting the same antisemitic venom heard in Europe during the 1930s.  When President Biden took office, he was determined to act because he knows that antisemitism and other forms of hatred are a threat to societies, breeding conspiracy theories and distorting the ability of citizens and public officials to make the logical, informed decisions that are critical to healthy development and effective, democratic governance.

That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized measures against antisemitism and other hatreds.  My colleague, Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice Desirée Cormier Smith, who advocates for the human rights of marginalized racial, ethnic, and Indigenous communities, will speak here next week.  In her remarks at this session last year, she highlighted that on President Biden’s first day in office, he signed an historic Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support of Underserved Communities.  In December 2022, the Administration established the Interagency Policy Committee on Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Related Forms of Bias and Discrimination.  And in June of this year, the work of that Committee resulted in the first-ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.  This landmark strategy includes over 100 new calls to action for the Administration, Congress, and civil society to take to raise awareness of antisemitism and its threat to American democracy, protect Jewish communities, reverse the disturbing normalization of antisemitism, and build cross-community solidarity.   

To combat antisemitism, it is crucial to have not only a national plan, but also concerted international strategies.  We applaud the European Union for its overarching strategy to combat antisemitism and protect Jewish life, which helped to inform our own National Strategy.  The OSCE plays an essential role in this region and can serve as a model for action well beyond it.  Over the past two decades, beginning with the landmark 2003 Maastricht Ministerial Council Decision, the OSCE has expanded its efforts to combat antisemitism and other forms of intolerance.

I commend the dedication and tenacity of the Chair’s Personal Representative Rabbi Andrew Baker and his fellow Tolerance Representatives.  I also applaud the impressive work of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Combating Antisemitism, Racism, and Intolerance, Senator Cardin.  OSCE Institutions – particularly ODIHR — have developed tools to assist states in implementing their commitments, such as practical guidelines and handbooks, educational materials, police training manuals, and a database of hate crimes data.  I encourage participating States to provide disaggregated data, which will help tailor effective response strategies.  I urge everyone to take advantage of the OSCE’s assistance, especially its educational materials and police instruction.  I also call upon participating States that have not yet done so to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism inclusive of its examples as well as its working definition of anti-Roma discrimination.  These working definitions can help governments and communities identify the many manifestations of these kinds of hatred.  

The Helsinki Final Act commits all participating states to respect the inherent dignity of the human person. However, within the OSCE region, human dignity is under attack in many ways. 

On August 16, Berlin police arrested a suspect in connection with the August 12 arson attacks on an important LGBTQI+ landmark in memory of Nazi victims and on the public book box dedicated to Holocaust history near Berlin’s Track 17 memorial, from which the Nazis sent Berlin Jews to Auschwitz.  The suspect had previously been arrested for vandalizing campaign posters by scrawling anti-LGBTQI+ slogans on them, as well as for an arson attack on the Berlin office of a local lesbian community organization.  He left an antisemitic note at Track 17 and anti-LGBTQI+ flyers at the other two sites.  Thankfully, no people were injured.  But no person, no community, should live in fear of a next attack.  These attacks demonstrate just how inextricably linked hatreds against vulnerable groups of people are, and likewise are an affirmation for how we should respond: an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.

The Holocaust reminds us of the horrors to which, left unchecked, hatred can lead.  People must not be dehumanized, subjected to injustice, or targeted for hate crimes for what they look like, how they worship, where they come from, how they identify, or whom they love.

Those who promote antisemitism and other forms of hatred exacerbate societal strife, erode trust in government, and undermine security.  To effectively counter hatred and violent extremism in the OSCE region and around the world, we must seize opportunities for greater collaboration.  By forging robust coalitions of conscience across communities and countries, we can make the ties of our common humanity stronger than the connections among haters who try to divide us.  We must uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which tells us all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.