OSCE Conference Considers “Combating Discrimination”

US Ambassador: “Let’s focus only on anti-Semitism”

Kazakhstan: an “oasis of stability and religious accord”

Bucharest has just hosted the latest OSCE “Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding”, following on from a 2005 event (and hot on the heels of the “Summit on Peace and Tolerance” in Kiev). Its conclusion was hardly ground-breaking:

Intolerance and discrimination could threaten global security, and the OSCE’s participating States need to strengthen efforts to avert this threat, the Organization’s Chairman-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, told a high-level meeting today.

“This conference shows the OSCE’s unwavering commitment to promote freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief,” Minister Moratinos said, addressing participants of the two-day conference.

The conference highlighted hate crimes in various countries, with particular attention given to anti-Semitism. In fact, the US ambassador went so far as to argue that the conference didn’t need to bother with anything else:

The U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Julie Finley, made an imperative call on member states to act against anti-Semitism, saying the tools created for this would also work to fight other intolerance. “Let’s focus only on anti-Semitism. The others will take care of themselves,” she said.

Plus it’s a handy way to avoid getting into any discussion of racism in the United States, of course.The view appeared to be that anti-Semitism is a trans-historical phenomenon. Elie Wiesel set the tone, in a video message:

“Anti-Semitism is the oldest form of hatred in history and is the only one of the serious illnesses of the 20th century which has survived and is still around, with communism and Nazism mostly gone now.”

Israeli minister Isaac Herzog continued in similar vein:

“Anti-Semitism is like cancer, it can lay dormant in the body and then awaken suddenly; ugly and cruel… We are here to form a coalition of nations who will fight anti-Semitism and we must all take an active role in this struggle and in educating against anti-Semitism.”

Conference delegates agreed that criticism of Israel is often really anti-Semitism. However, there does not appear to have been any attempt to analyze seriously the extent to which anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel overlap or are distinct; this leaves the impression that any criticism is likely to be seen as anti-Semitic – the flipside of which, of course, will be the equally unwarranted view that claims of anti-Semitism are just cover for Israel. The JTA adds the detail that

European leaders are now discussing, with Israel’s participation, how to improve the country’s image.

What efforts Israel itself might undertake to “improve the country’s image” does not appear to be such an urgent subject of discussion.

However, despite Finley’s “imperative call”, other forms of discrimination were discussed. Jordan emphasized problems faced by Muslims:

HRH Prince Hassan on Thursday called for a re-humanisation of the world order, pointing out that a culture of compliance to international humanitarian standards was required for all players on the world stage…[T]he Prince called for justice and equality in development [and] emphasised that in today’s world, Muslim children are the greatest victims of suffering caused by ill-conceived foreign policies…The Prince reminded Romania’s leaders that extremism was not a natural product of Islam nor of Arabic culture.

The conference also gave an opportunity for Belarussian dissidents to speak out:

Attending the two-day conference are Uladzimir Lameka, Belarus’ deputy authorized representative on religious and national affairs; Yakaw Basin, deputy chairman of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities; and Syarhey Lukanin, a lawyer of Minsk-based New Life Church.

In an interview with BelaPAN, Mr. Lukanin said that he planned to deliver a speech highlighting violations of Protestant congregations’ rights and “believers’ struggle for their constitutional rights to freedom of conscience and faith” in Belarus.

And as we expect from these kind of events, there were some nice examples of irony. Forum 18 noted the Kazakh contribution:

Addressing the OSCE conference on combating discrimination today (7 June) in the Romanian capital Bucharest, Kazakhstan’s senior religious affairs official Yeraly Tugzhanov boasted that his country is an “oasis of stability and religious accord”. He claimed that there are “no grounds” for discrimination on the basis of religion. He spoke three days after six Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Caspian Sea port of Atyrau were given heavy fines for meeting for worship without registration. Two of the six are pensioners, with only a low income. “

The host country, meanwhile, took the opportunity to bash its neighbours:

The reunion was opened by a speech held by Romania president Traian Basescu, who emphasized on the fact that Romania was the most comprehensive minorities protection legislation but, unfortunately, such laws aren’t found in neighboring states like Hungary, Ukraine or Serbia, where important Romanian communities live.

This would be the same President Basescu who was last month criticized for referring to a troublesome journalist as a “stinky gypsy”.

The US delegation, it is worth noting, was led by Rep Chris Smith, whose contribution to international understanding includes embracing a rumour that the Chinese eat human fetuses as a “health-food”.

According to the JTA, the conference also saw the release of Human Rights First’s 2007 Hate Crimes Survey. The survey, and companion pieces on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and homophobia, can be seen here.

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