American Jewish leaders went to last week's trans-Atlantic conference on reducing anti-Semitism hand-in-hand with American Muslims, Sikh Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and LGBT people to send a message to the world that inter-racial, inter-faith coalition-building is necessary to eradicate anti-Semitic bigotry and hate crimes.
Anti-Semitism is an age-old scourge that has defied eradication, especially in Europe. The last few months have witnessed a dramatic rise in hate crime violence and other forms of anti-Semitism against Jews, some of it tied loosely but incorrectly to Israeli foreign policy in Gaza, but with Twitter hashtags like #HitlerWasRight and usernames like @DeathtoJews, the bright line between acceptable political criticism and naked anti-Semitism is unmistakable.
The conference marked the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Declaration, which obligated all 57 member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) to combat anti-Semitism and to monitor, prevent, and report hate crimes. To commemorate the occasion, the OSCE called a conference for participating states to reflect on the progress made since 2004.
I participated in last week's event as well as the one ten years ago that resulted in the Berlin Declaration. At both, I headed a delegation of diverse American non-governmental organizations that included African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, LGBT people, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, and Arabs. And, at both, we were the only delegation that reflected the diversity of the nation we represented.
Our diverse coalition is the outgrowth of a longstanding partnership led by Jews, African Americans, and labor unions that came together to fight Jim Crow segregation in the American South. Over this years, this partnership has grown to mirror the diversity of our nation. This is a model for combating anti-Semitism that can and should be replicated in nations across the globe.
After ten years, only 27 out of the OSCE's 57 nations now comply with the Berlin Declaration's obligation to submit official hate crimes statistics to the OSCE. Even worse, Jews from across Europe now live in greater fear of persecution, hate crimes, and displacement. Jewish communities in France, Belgium, and Eastern Europe have become targets of bigotry, far right parties have embraced anti-Semitism as a political strategy, and protests over Middle East conflict have too often morphed into hateful anti-Jewish sentiment.
There is progress to acknowledge and applaud. Today, 40 OSCE nations have some sort of hate crime law. But implementation is often weak or inadequate to meaningfully protect vulnerable communities.
Inter-group co-operation was imperative for the United States to move forward with implementation.
Since the Berlin Declaration, the U.S. in 2009 passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal hate crime protections to include LGBT people, women, and people with disabilities and enhanced our monitoring and prevention of bias-motivated crimes. We were able to pass this law because our diverse coalition came together and decided to measure equality by a single yardstick.
The landscape of bigotry and prejudice is different from nation to nation, and anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, nationalism, and homophobia still run rampant throughout the world and the OSCE nations. But there are opportunities for Jews across Europe to partner with Muslims, the LGBT community, the Roma, people with disabilities, and Europeans of African-descent to call on their governments to protect them from aggression and bigotry.
The United States still has a very long way to go to ensuring equal protection under the law for all. Our criminal justice system has become a warehouse for poor, Black, and Latino men. Our educational system continues to deny minority students the same opportunities as Whites. And African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and Sikhs continue to be victim to state-sanctioned aggression and profiling.
But because American Jewry has helped create and continue this inter-group partnership, the diverse communities of the U.S. have been able to transcend deep-seated differences to push our nation to better protect all Americans. If that can happen in the U.S. with our history of violence, bigotry, and oppression, it can certainly happen in any nation.
Wade Henderson is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition more than 200 diverse American civil rights organizations.