WJC President Ronald S. Lauder urges vigilance in protecting Jewish communities: “We want action not words; we want laws that really mean something”
MUNICH – Three dozen regional, national, and international officials from around the world gathered in Munich on 28-29 October for the Secnd World Jewish Congress International Meeting of Special Envoys and Coordinators for Combating Antisemitism (SECCA), held to coincide with the WJC Executive Committee’s biannual meeting. The two groups came together on Tuesday for a roundtable discussion, led by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder and WJC Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism Julius Meinl.
Opening the roundtable, President Lauder welcomed the members of SECCA, whom he called “perhaps the most important people helping the Jewish people fight against antisemitism.” Highlighting in his remarks the recent Yom Kippur attack in Halle, President Lauder urged Germany to enact laws to prosecute antisemitism and individuals who espouse Nazi ideology. The police must be more active in exercising vigilance in protecting the Jewish community and its institutions, President Lauder declared. In Halle, for example, it took the police an unnecessarily long time to arrive at the scene. “One of the problems is that the police are not trained for this,” President Lauder emphasized. “How can you expect them to carry out things, when you have marches in Chemnitz and Dortmund, and the police stand by? For us, it is very reminiscent of the police standing by during Kristallnacht, and not allowing the firemen to get there.”
“This is what we are facing. We can have all of the confidences that we want, but we want action not words. We want laws that really mean something,” President Lauder said.
President Lauder thanked Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism, for leading the initiative, as well as Felix Klein, Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism, and Elan Carr, the United States Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
WJC Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism Meinl also warned in his remarks of the proliferation of Nazi incitement and violence in Germany, where the memory of the Holocaust is still fresh. On campuses, in politics, on social media, and in the streets, Commissioner Meinl said, the rise of antisemitism has become inescapable. “The shocking attack in Halle, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, should serve as a large red flashing warning sign. The motivation was antisemitic, the intended victims were Jews, but those who paid the ultimate price were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Commissioner Meinl said. “It is the most brutal example of the cost antisemitism inflicts on wider society.”
In his address, Dr. Klein emphasized the crucial nature of this forum to enable leaders of the World Jewish Congress to meet with the officials working for the well-being of their communities. One of the most important tenets of this work was the establishment of sturdy structures for action, Dr. Klein said, including a standing joint federal and state commission to fight antisemitism and protect Jewish life, as well as the ongoing transfer of information and knowledge to share examples for best practices. Such structures must also be built on the international level, Dr. Klein said, underscoring the need for all EU member states to appoint a special commissioner to a position like his, and to formulate a coherent strategy for combating antisemitism.
Critical structures would include a mechanism to record antisemitism incidents that are not considered crimes, to reduce the overall number of unreported incidents, and to encourage victims to engage police authorities to discern and prosecute the suspects. “Incidents like Halle are only the peak of the problem,” Klein said. “We need recording, and we need to encourage victims to go to the police, to enable the police to discern, and then of course to prosecute… if we don’t pass strict measures against the perpetrators, nothing will change.” International structures must also focus on combating hate speech online, Dr. Klein added.
In her remarks, European Commission Coordinator von Schnurbein stressed the need to enforce the application of existing legislation and to obligate EU member states to both formally adopt and implement IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. “There is legislation in place on a lot of issues, including incitement to hatred and violence on the internet, [and] of course also offline, but the problem is application of legislation. And of course, we may also need stricter laws, and I think this will probably be part of the debate over the next decade, to balance freedom of speech with hate speech… where is the border where we say we do not tolerate toxic speech that is not necessarily at this point illegal, because it is not incitement?” von Schnurbein said. It is also essential to ensure that perpetrators of hate crimes are brought to justice before evidence of incitement is removed, she added.
US Special Envoy Carr echoed the concerns of his counterparts in the challenges of contending with incidents that fall into a legal gray area, like harassment, public disorder, or crimes that carry no penalty. “What I hear from prosecutors and police leaders from all over the world, including the United States, is ‘we don’t know how to deal with crimes that are barely crimes, but that clearly have an antisemitic flavor’,” Carr said. Introduction of tolerance programs for potential suspects or defendants is a critical and effective path for preempting violence, Carr said, adding: “Every law enforcement office and every prosecutorial agency must incorporate this as part of their standard operating procedures. They have to force everybody who has even a hint of antisemitism to undergo a tolerance program.”
The SECCA forum comprises officials tasked with combating antisemitism in their constituency, with participants hailing from dozens of countries, as well as international organizations such as the European Commission, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
SECCA first met in Bucharest in June 2019, under the patronage and with the participation of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in cooperation with the WJC. At that meeting, the Romanian Presidency issued an official declaration affirming its commitment to contributing and supporting international initiatives directed at tackling the challenges facing Jewish communities.
On Monday, the WJC Executive Committee adopted a resolution confirming that the World Jewish Congress would regularly convene International SECCA Meetings in order to exchange views, share best practices and policies, and evaluate progress in the shared fight against antisemitism. The SECCA members also had the opportunity to meet amongst themselves for a focused conversation, attend the WJC’s dinner honoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the WJC Theodor Herzl Award, and take part in a WJC-organized tour of the Dachau concentration camp.
Prior to addressing SECCA on Tuesday, WJC President Lauder spoke at a meeting of the European Union G6+1, an unofficial group of the interior ministers of the six European Union member states (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom) plus the United States as an observer, in a discussion focused on right-wing extremism and antisemitism.