Whitewashing anti-Semitism

Next month, the fourth International Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism will convene in Jerusalem under the auspices of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Swastika grafitti 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Swastika grafitti 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Next month, the fourth International Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism will convene in Jerusalem under the auspices of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The forum, which was created four years ago in the wake of a sharp upsurge in anti-Semitism worldwide, will bring together experts from all over the world to discuss the most effective strategies to fight against the continuing defamation of the Jewish people and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
In principle, this is a very important conference and one which should contribute new ideas and increased motivation to those leading the fight against the our unfortunately numerous enemies.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, upon receiving the conference program and learning that those scheduled to deliver greetings to the plenary at the opening ceremony are in four out of five cases representatives of countries whose current record on anti-Semitism is among the worst in Europe.
The countries in question are, in order of appearance: Ireland, Lithuania, Greece and Hungary.
The problem in this regard must be divided into two different categories. Ireland is generally acknowledged to be the most actively anti- Israel country in Western Europe, whereas Lithuania, Greece and Hungary all have hitherto consistently failed to sufficiently address serious issues of anti-Semitism in their countries; in some respects the governments themselves are directly responsible for the problems.
In Lithuania, for example, the government has actively promoted the Prague Declaration which supports the canard of historical equivalency between Communist and Nazi crimes and seeks to undermine the accepted narrative of the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
Besides honoring Nazi war criminals and collaborators and seeking to prosecute Jewish anti-Nazi partisans on trumped up charges of war crimes, the authorities have failed to apprehend, let alone punish, those responsible for a slew of attacks on Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials and even Jewish community institutions, the number of which rose considerably in the wake of the ultra-nationalist agenda implemented by the government.
In Greece, the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, with its openly anti- Semitic rhetoric and blatant Holocaust denial threaten Greek Jewry. In Hungary, World War II fascists, including Admiral Miklos Horthy, who bears significant responsibility for the mass deportation of 437,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, are publicly honored, and the notoriously anti-Roma and anti- Semitic Jobbik Party calls for the registration of Jews in the Parliament and government ministries, accusing them of double loyalties, and creating an anti- Semitic atmosphere which arouses memories of the darkest periods in the history of the local Jewish community.
If the guests in question were coming to Jerusalem to announce new policies which would significantly contribute to the battle against anti-Semitism or against the attacks on Israel in their countries, obviously their invitation to the forum would be totally justified, but if past experience is any indicator, that will not be the case. On the contrary, their “greetings” will be another opportunity to whitewash the problem and extol the wonderful policies of the governments they represent.
Thus the guest of honor to the forum held in December 2009 was Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackes, who did not renounce his country’s support for the Prague Declaration or apologize for past failures, but rather used the platform to equate the phenomenon of Lithuanian collaboration in Holocaust crimes with the heroic deeds of the Lithuanian Righteous, as if the two were equivalent, when the number of local killers was many times that of the Righteous, a classic example of rampant Lithuanian Holocaust distortion.
In response to an e-mail I sent to Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin in this regard, a ministry spokesman replied that there were “many good reasons to to hold this Global Forum exactly the way it is,” and emphasized the practical aspects of strengthening the fight against anti-Semitism, which of course entirely misses the point. No one doubts that the experts gathered can and should benefit from the opportunity to exchange ideas and strategies, which is the aim of the conference.
But what message does the Forum send when those invited as honored guests represent the countries with the most serious problems? If they were to participate in the various working groups and address the plenary after meeting with the experts throughout the conference, there might be room for optimism, but that is not what is planned. Their speeches open the conference and they will not be around to hear its conclusions and undertake to implement them in their countries, thus creating a very problematic and disappointing scenario for all of us who hope for the Global Forum’s success and recognize its potential importance.The author is the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.