Director-General speaks on combating anti-Semitism at Berlin conference

On 14-15 March, 2016, UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova,gave a keynote speech at the International Parliamentary Conference on Combating Antisemitism, organised in Berlin by the German Government and Parliament in partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA), hosting more than 100 parliamentarians from nearly 40 countries. The conference took place during Germany’s chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

In her Keynote Address, Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel gave a powerful statement condemning all forms of antisemitism today, in Germany and across the world. 

"Antisemitism is alive and kicking today -- it has no role in our society," she said, underlining the need to‎ combat it by all means and in all instances. 

She pointed here to the importance of sports and the Internet as platforms for human rights and the inviolable dignity of every woman and man. 

Angela Merkel was clear about the crucial foundation of shared values for a liberal, open and tolerant society. 

"The measure of humanity is how we interact with others," said the Chancellor, pointing to the crucial role of parliamentarians in leading the way. 

On 14 March, Irina Bokova gave a keynote speech at the Foreign Office, where she made the stakes clear. 

“Antisemitism kills,” she said. “Children are killed because they are Jewish. Women and men are killed because they are Jewish. Places of worship, culture, community are attacked, because they are Jewish. This is happening in Europe, across the world.” 

In response, Irina Bokova said, “Crimes must be countered and punished. They must also be prevented, and this begins with education -- education that cultivates critical thinking, that fosters new forms of global solidarity, that engages young people in combatting antisemitism, in refusing all forms of prejudice.” 

The Director-General pointed to UNESCO’s leading work in promoting global citizenship education, as a tool to prevent violent extremism, and action to bolster media and information literacy, to help young women and men counter radicalisation through the Internet. She underlined the Organisation’s work to advance Holocaust education –a unique programme in the United Nations system --  to never forget and to fight racism and discrimination today. 

She stressed the importance of the UNESCO University Chairs in Holocaust education at the Krakow University and University of Aix-Marseille, on Genocide Prevention at Rutgers University, as well as the UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education, at the University of Southern California. 

The same spirit underpins the exhibition, “People, Book, Land: The 3,500 year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land,” organised with UNESCO and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, launched in June 2014, now touring the world, to deepen knowledge about the history and culture of the Jewish people. 

“Fundamentally,” she concluded, “all this is about defending humanity as a single community, sharing values and equal dignity.” 

Rabbi Andrew Baker, of the OSCE, also gave a keynote speech. 

European Commissioner, First Vice President, Frans Timmermans minced no words in stating the challenge: "Look around you, it's happening again."

In response, he pointed to "education, education, education."

"This is the only agora society has to meet, to learn to live together, to foster responsible citizens." 

Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier MdB,German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, commented: “The terrible terrorist attacks of recent years in Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen have shown us that antisemitism remains a real and dangerous threat –not only for our Jewish fellow citizens, but for all of our societies. The fight against antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination must therefore remain our common cause and is also a focus of the German chairmanship of the OSCE.” 

John Mann MP (UK), Chair of the ICCA, said: “This is a significant step in our efforts to ensure joined-up thinking from parliaments across the globe. The internet and antisemitic-inspired terrorism are just two examples of worldwide phenomenon which require an international response. The commitment from all parties and senior leaders in Germany shows that we have the attention and determination of world leaders to act and it puts perpetrators of antisemitism on notice that the world is watching and will not stand idly by whilst anti-Jewish hatred is on the rise." 

Petra Pau MdB, Vice-President of the German Bundestag and Member of the ICCA Steering Committee, declared: “For years I have campaigned on the themes of civil rights and democracy and against right-wing extremism, racism and antisemitism.” “Never again” is easy to say. That which was previously inconceivable, that once happened, can happen again, warned the Hungarian Nobel Prize for Literature winner Imre Kertész. These words from the Holocaust survivor act as a reminder to me. And to us. For that too this Berlin Conference is topical and important.” 

Senior political leaders from every parliamentary group represented in the German Bundestag addressed the conference, as well as Bundestag President Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert and Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel from the CDU/CSU, and other key speakers from the CDU/CSU, SPD, Die Linke and the Green party. 

Key international speakers includedFrans Timmermans, EU Commissioner and First Vice-President, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Justice, UK, the Hon Michael Keenan MP, Minister for Justice, Australia, and Harlem Desir, French Minister of State for European Affairs. 

The first day of the conference at the German parliament discussed key global issues, including internet hate, community relations  and antisemitism in football and how best to respond to them. The second day at the Foreign Office explored legal, parliamentary and governmental responses to antisemitism and highlighted replicable good practices. 

The Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism was co-founded by John Mann MP, chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. An inaugural conference was held in London in 2009 and resulted in ‘London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism’. Following a second conference in Ottawa, Canada, in 2010, an international task force on internet hate, incorporating members of the major internet companies, was established and has since published a report and produced a statement of aspirational principles that the participating industry stakeholders have supported and which serve as a framework through which those companies can seek to address cyber hate.