"Promoting tolerance and combating anti-Semitism - our collective endeavour because it is our common history and our common future"


Berlin, 13.11.2014 - Opening address by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr. Didier Burkhalter, at the Conference on Anti-Semitism of the OSCE - Check against delivery

Speaker: President of the Swiss Confederation, Didier Burkhalter (2014); OSCE CiO, Didier Burkhalter (2014)

The OSCEs tenth Conference on Anti-Semitism takes place on 13 November 2014. © Keystone

Dear Mr Steinmeier and Mr Link (dear co-organizers)
Dear Mr Dacic and Mr Gentiloni (dear colleagues)
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Earlier this year, in January, I visited the Auschwitz Memorial Site to pay my respects to the victims of the Holocaust. I was accompanied by a young Swiss woman by the name of Nathalie. She had written a school essay on the story of her grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor. It is a moving account of the Holocaust seen through the eyes of a young person who had become aware about the grave dangers of anti-Semitism in long conversations with her grandfather.

Nathalie’s essay was published as a book and drew considerable public attention. I mention this because one of the two key messages I wish to convey to you today is the essential role that the young generation can and should play in addressing anti-Semitism. We often hear that it is radicalised young men and women who commit anti-Semitic crimes. The more important it is to emphasise and tap the enormous positive potential of young people – and more broadly of civil society – in tackling anti-Semitism.

It is our responsibility to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to provide education in ways that enable and encourage young people to help combat Anti-Semitism.

Which brings me to my second main message: What is needed most today in preventing and addressing anti-Semitism is political leadership. Since the Berlin Conference a decade ago, OSCE participating States have made a series of commitments to combat anti-Semitism. It is the responsibility of political leaders to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled. Political leadership is key to addressing anti-Semitism effectively.

When the Swiss Chairmanship was asked a few months ago to co-organise this conference as an OSCE event, it was clear to me that this was the right thing to do. Anti-Semitism continues to threaten security in the OSCE area and to undermine human rights and democracy. Since the Berlin Declaration of 2004, the OSCE has developed an important role in dealing with this challenge. And it just so happens that improving the implementation of OSCE commitments in the human dimension and enhancing the involvement of civil society and young people in OSCE matters are two Swiss priorities for our Chairmanship year.

It is therefore an honour and a pleasure for me to welcome you to this conference. I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you – delegates, representatives of international organisations, and the more than 200 representatives of civil society and youth organisations.
Let me also express my gratitude to Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his team for hosting this important event, and also to them and Director Link and ODIHR for their excellent cooperation in organising it.

We are gathered here today in the spirit of the 2004 Berlin Declaration to send a strong message against anti-Semitism and to state unequivocally that we must step up our efforts to prevent and combat all forms of anti-Semitism. Let us make this conference more than a commemorative event – let us make it agenda-setting.

Ladies and gentlemen

The Helsinki Final Act that was worked out four decades ago was a remarkable document. It provided the common foundations for European security at a time when our continent was deeply divided. And it broadened the notion of security by making respect for human rights and the domestic conduct of governments a legitimate subject of international scrutiny.

The normative framework of the Final Act was an important reason why the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago and the end of the Cold War took place without violence. While the grave violations of the Helsinki Principles in the context of the Ukraine crisis have done damage to this normative framework, there is a broad recognition that it remains the indispensable basis for European security and must be reconsolidated.

With its provisions regarding human rights, fundamental freedoms, non-discrimination, and human dignity, the Helsinki Final Act provides a solid basis for engaging in efforts to combat anti-Semitism. The Berlin Declaration channelled this engagement through concrete commitments. These commitments included the implementation of national measures to effectively combat various forms of anti-Semitism, the promotion of relevant educational programmes, and the promotion of Holocaust remembrance.

Since Berlin 2004, the OSCE has built up capacities to support participating States in combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. There are now three Personal Representatives of the Chairmanship focusing on different forms of discrimination and intolerance. One of these Representatives, Rabbi Andrew Baker, is dealing specifically with anti-Semitism. His country visits and his reports should help participating States to effectively combat anti-Semitism.

Much work is also being done by the ODIHR in this field. I will not go into details here because I gather that you, Director Link, will provide an overview. But I wish to commend you and your Office for these efforts. Activities such as the gathering of data on anti-Semitism, the Hate Crime Reporting website, and the facilitation of exchanges of good practice in dealing with anti-Semitism are essential to assist participating States in implementing the commitments they have signed up to.

The ODIHR has become an important platform for dialogue on the challenges and the means of dealing with contemporary anti-Semitism. It helps participating States to address the specificities of anti-Semitism while placing them in the context of other manifestations of intolerance. (To Mr. Link:) You can count on Switzerland’s continuing support for the invaluable work done by the ODIHR.

Ten years after the Berlin Declaration, we need political leadership to make full use of these OSCE capacities. And we need political leadership to translate abstract commitments into concrete realities at the national level. The more we improve the implementation of OSCE commitments, the more effective we will be in addressing anti-Semitism and other challenges to European security.

Let me make four points in this regard:

First, political leaders need to speak out strongly whenever anti-Semitic incidents and other hate crimes occur. They must signal to the communities concerned and to the general public that such acts will not be tolerated. They should also speak out whenever politicians and political parties spur anti-Semitism or, conversely, when they make unjustified accusations of anti-Semitism to further their political aims.

Second, as stated in the Berlin Declaration, political leaders should unambiguously declare that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.
The statement by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy condemning anti-Semitic violence that occurred in protests against Israel’s Gaza policy this summer set an important example in this regard. Criticising States – including Israel – is legitimate; freedom of expression is a human right that we should all defend. But such criticism must never have anti-Semitic undertones or translate into any form of anti-Semitic action.

Third, political leaders should make sure that there are adequate monitoring, reporting, and law enforcement schemes in place to combat anti-Semitism at the national level. We need laws and institutions that ensure that anti-Semitic stigmatisation, discrimination, and violence have no place in our societies. It is also important that measures to combat anti-Semitism be integrated into relevant national and local strategies and action plans across a number of key areas – including human rights, equality, crime and violence prevention.

Fourth, and finally, political leadership is required to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. As Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, I used this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day to call on all participating States to step up their efforts to combat anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance, and to raise awareness of the Holocaust, especially among young people.

Ladies and gentlemen

It is up to policymakers to provide adequate conditions to effectively and sustainably combat anti-Semitism. But it is important to note that addressing anti-Semitism is a task that concerns society at large. Each and every citizen can and must contribute to ensure the non-discrimination and security of Jewish and other minority communities.

This is why I consider the participation of representatives of civil society and youth organisations at this conference to be particularly important.
You play a seminal role in monitoring trends of anti-Semitism and holding States accountable if they fail to live up to their commitments. You are also an important source of know-how when it comes to developing tools to effectively address contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism, such as the growing challenge of the spread of anti-Semitism via the internet and social media. And you are an essential force to raise awareness among fellow citizens about the dangers of anti-Semitism and ways of standing against it.

I was glad to hear from Swiss civil society representatives that the discussions in the Civil Society Forum were concrete, fruitful and forward-looking. The Swiss Chairmanship will take good note of the recommendations that will be presented by the Civil Society Panel this afternoon. Cooperative and comprehensive approaches to security are a hallmark of the OSCE and will continue to guide our efforts in dealing with anti-Semitism.

I mentioned at the beginning the importance I attach to involving young people in OSCE activities. A key task of policymakers is to provide good conditions for the next generation, which is why it is so important that we politicians remain in constant dialogue with young people, listen to their needs and ideas, and encourage them to get involved in political matters themselves.

Alerting young people to the danger of anti-Semitism and motivating them to address this danger should be a priority for all of us. The Berlin Declaration has underlined the importance of educational tools in this regard.

Switzerland supports the “No hate speech movement”, a youth campaign of the Council of Europe with which the OSCE is working closely in the field of tolerance and non-discrimination.

I would also like to draw your attention to Likrat, an interesting leadership and dialogue project that was conceived by the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities. Promoting intercultural learning, Likrat facilitates visits to Swiss schools by Jewish adolescents who talk about Judaism there and engage with their peers of different religions in discussions on religious and social issues. This seems a promising way of effectively reducing stereotypes and preventing anti-Semitism, and I was pleased to learn that the Likrat project is now being implemented in other European countries too.

Ladies and gentlemen

Every act of anti-Semitism is an attack against our society as a whole, a negation of pluralism and of respect for human rights. The Swiss Chairmanship calls on all participating States to vigorously counter anti-Semitism and to live up to their respective commitments. And we call on civil society and youth representatives to continue to engage with the OSCE and make the fight against anti-Semitism a collective endeavour; a collective endeavour because it is our common history and our common future.

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