Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust chronicler and Nobel Peace laureate, called on the 600 delegates to an international conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin to "send a powerful message" to governments around the world "not to allow the anti-Semitic poison to spread, for it brings dishonor to civilization wherever it exists."
Delivering a keynote speech on Wednesday at the second conference held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the subject of anti-Semitism, Wiesel suggested that "a manifesto be composed, distributed in all schools where, one day every year, it be read and studied as a sacred document."
He noted the significance of the conference being held in Berlin, the seat of Nazi power, and said that while the source and endurance of anti-Semitism in history remains a mystery, "I do know that anti-Semitism, in order to be defeated, needs to be first unmasked and then denounced, rejected and possibly outlawed. For contrary to most movements that have shaped history, it alone has no rehabilitating feature."
The two-day conference, with some 500 participants from Europe, North America and Central Asia, drew top officials from a number of countries. They included U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Israeli President Moshe Katsav, and German President Johannes Rau, all of whom observed the fact that six decades after the defeat of the Nazis, anti-Semitism was a growing concern, particularly, but not exclusively, in Europe.
"It's sad to see that in 2004, there is still need for a convention to devote itself to battling anti-Semitism," Rau said in his opening remarks. He and others called on European countries to step up their efforts to quell anti-Semitism, and to take specific steps to chronicle anti-Semitic incidents and combat the hatred of Jews through education and legislation.
One subtext of the conference was the relationship between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism, and there was much discussion behind the scenes between the participating Arab and Western countries on whether criticism of Israel constitutes anti-Semitism.
Rau acknowledged in his speech that the two attitudes sometimes overlap and that condemnation of Israel often is motivated by those with anti-Semitic feelings, though he said that allies should be allowed to criticize each other. "Everybody knows that massive anti-Semitism has been behind some of the criticism of Israeli government policies in the past decades," he said.
Katsav called on all countries to unite in their opposition of terrorism and anti-Semitism, stressing that no country today is immune from terror, and that anti-Semitism poses a threat not only to Jews but to democracy.
Wiesel made a similar point in his talk, and said that he and his fellow Holocaust survivors "have antennas -- better yet, we are antennas. And if we tell you that the signals we receive are disturbing, indeed alarming, people better listen."
The U.S. delegation, headed by former New York Mayor Ed Koch, is comprised of three members of Congress, Powell and several other members of the Bush administration, and five members of the public, including representatives from the American Jewish Congress and Orthodox Union.