In 2004, former US secretary of state Colin Powell appointed me to serve as chairman of the American delegation at the Berlin Conference of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE is made up of 55 nations, primarily the European Union, the Eastern European countries, Russia, Turkey, along with Canada and the US
The conference was called to discuss ways of dealing with rising anti-Semitism in Europe. In Great Britain, anti-Semitic acts were then and are now taking place in academic circles. In France, physical assaults on Jews, particularly by the French Arab community, were rising. The Chief Rabbi of Paris had even warned Jewish children on their way to religious schools not to wear kipot and to instead wear baseball caps so they would not stand out as being Jewish.
The French government cracked down on anti-Semitic activities after the French presidential election was concluded and the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the following year drastically declined. Recently, however, a young Jew, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Paris by a group made up of French Arabs, Africans and Europeans from countries other than France, all members of a gang called the Barbarians.
Halimi's murder has shocked the French public and government. In its wake, there have been a number of rallies against anti-Semitism in several cities joined by government officials, including French president Jacques Chirac.
At the osce conference in Berlin in 2004, the US delegation made the point that those engaged in anti-Semitic acts often prefer to conceal their real feelings by directing their bias and hostility at Israel. The Polish Foreign Minister, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, summed that aspect up in 2003 when he said, "Thus anti-Semitism is sometimes masked as 'anti-Zionism,' enabling base instincts to be manipulated and resentments to be revived. From burning books to burning humans, there is only a small step. This is why 'no tolerance for intolerance' should hold the first place among the methods to fight against anti-Semitism."
THIS IS by way of introduction to a current incident involving the British architect, Richard Rogers, a/k/a/ Lord Rogers, who has been designated as architect for two very prestigious buildings here in New York. One of his projects is the extension of the Javits Convention Center, a $1.7 billion project; the other is the $1 billion expansion for mixed use of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, a former bread factory and now a soundstage for movies and television. Architect Rogers has a superb reputation in his field. He was selected for these projects by the Empire State Development Corporation, a state agency headed by Charles Gargano, who was appointed by NY Governor George Pataki.
Rogers has come under attack because until recently, he was affiliated with the anti-Israel organization Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP). Those attending the meetings of APJP, the first three hosted by Rogers at his office, proposed boycotting Israeli construction firms and expelling Israeli architects from the International Union of Architects. US Congressman Anthony Weiner, because of Rogers' association with that organization, has urged the Empire State Development Corporation to select another architect.
Faced with the possible loss of the lucrative Javits contract, Rogers issued a statement: "My convictions on peace and justice have always been clear. But in view of the published aims of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, and particularly in view of the suggested boycott by some members, I am dissociating myself from this organization."
Gargano's spokesperson expressed satisfaction with Rogers' statement. Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said in response, "I welcome that statement, there is something else I would like to hear him say, though. I would like to hear Mr. Rogers add one sentence, not only does he disassociate himself from this organization, but he disassociates himself from using creativity, art and architecture as a weapon for people's views."
Subsequently, The New York Post reported Rogers said, "Hamas must renounce terrorism. Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist. Just making a statement is not enough. They have to back it up." He said a starter should be holding "a press conference, don't just make a fig-leaf statement."
FOR ME, Rogers' current statements don't ring true. An apology made in order to save one's job or keep a contract is always suspect. It should be followed by some form of contrition.
What could Rogers do? He could explain how an educated person, even if he had a position that was pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel - which some people who are not anti-Semites do have and which position I would disagree with - could support expelling Israeli architects from the International Union of Architects.
Has he offered prior opinions on Israel and Palestinian terrorism? What are they? He should explain his position on punishing all Israeli architects for actions of the Israeli government. Has he ever condemned Palestinian terrorism directed at the civilian population of Israel? Can he explain why he hosted three meetings of an organization clearly hostile to Israel? Did he make any remarks welcoming the organization to his office and, if so, what were they?
In short, I am not persuaded that all should be forgiven because Rogers has said he is now disassociating himself from the organization with which he was affiliated which he hosted at his office, because he now apparently for the first time has learned it favors a boycott against Israel. What was he doing during those three earlier meetings? Sleeping? Why is he now opposed to all boycotts?
Aren't there justifiable ones? For me, those who will say anything to retain contracts which may violate their own principles are to be condemned as we condemn the bigot. They are without a conscience.
The writer is a former mayor of New York City.