Cablegate: Special Envoy On Anti-Semitism Rickman Meets


DE RUEHGV #0410/01 1551646
P 031646Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: On the margins of a conference in Geneva on the
Durban Review Conference, Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism
Gregg Rickman held meetings on May 26 and 27 with leaders of
the Jewish community, representatives of the Geneva cantonal
government, and officials from other UN missions and the
Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR). Dr.
Rickman concluded that much remains to be done to fully
address anti-Semitism in Switzerland and in Geneva-based
international organizations. END SUMMARY.


2. Dr. Rickman heard two somewhat different assessments of
the severity of the anti-Semitism problem in Switzerland in a
meeting with two leading Jewish leaders. Ron Aufseesser, a
leader of Geneva's moderate Jewish community, stressed that
the community had strong ties with local officials and that
it had found workable solutions (including a compromise that
now allows the use of Swiss land for a Jewish cemetary) for
most difficulties. Johann Gurfinkiel, the president of
CICAD, the main Jewish political organization in francophone
Switzerland, showed somewhat less satisfaction with the
relationship with authorities, but offered few direct
criticisms beyond mentioning some difficulties CICAD has had
in prioritizing religious sensitization in education; it was
difficult to address universally, as each canton had to be
approached individually, but the Geneva canton had a quite
good education department. CICAD organizes an annual trip to
Auschwitz for teachers that Gurfinkiel found had had good
results. Both thought that most anti-Semitic incidents show
up in the press and were mostly associated with events in the
Middle East.

3. Two other major community leaders, Jean-Marc Brunschwig
and David Bernstein, stressed that the Jewish community had
made strides in gaining political influence in Switzerland.
They described how CICAD and Jewish organizations had reached
out to Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey and to Swiss
legislators. When Calmy-Rey took her recent trip to Iran,
then, those organizations had met with her to express
opposition, and had also generated opposition to the trip
among legislators. Just as those efforts were beginning to
bear fruit, however, international protests, including by
U.S. organizations, had evoked a backlash in Calmy-Rey's
favor among many in the Swiss community who saw such
criticism as external interference. (Aufseesser had made a
similar point in the earlier meeting, implying that while the
U.S. push for Swiss banks to relinquish Holocaust victims'
assets to their inheritors was the only way anything would
have been resolved, it came across as "brutal" in the Swiss
context.) While the former head of Geneva's Muslim community
had been cooperative in relations with the Jewish community,
the new head was far more radical, raising concerns about a
spike of anti-Semitism in future, Brunschwig and Bernstein

4. Brunschwig and Bernstein said that while anti-Semitism
among the Swiss was a manageable problem that was being well
monitored, it was a far more serious problem within
Geneva-based international organizations. They cited schools
involved with international organizations in which some
teachers had expressed anti-Semitic views, and hoped an
effective monitoring system could be established.

5. Dr. Rickman visited the Hekhal Haness synagogue, which
suffered from an arson attack a year ago. Synagogue leaders
reported that, while the police were aware that the fire had
resulted from a criminal attack, they had failed to identify
the perpetrator(s) and had few additional leads to pursue
their investigation. Repairs of the badly damaged synagogue
are well advanced.


6. Dr. Rickman had a useful meeting with: Ivana Vrbrica,
the former head of secondary education in the Geneva public
schools; Andre Castella, the Geneva canton delegate on
integration; and Jacques Pahud, head of the judicial police.
Vrbrica noted that, while Geneva schools attempted to teach
remembrance of the Holocaust and foster "good citizenship
skills", they did not address specific crises in the world
that might give rise to anti-Semitic sentiments. The schools
relied on many organizations, including CICAD, for expertise.
School tours of World War II-era border crossings covered
all aspects of persecution suffered by those who sought
refuge in Switzerland. Castella explained that Geneva
cantonal law concerning discrmination is derived from the

Federal Law on Foreigners (2002). He saw a great need to
cultivate diversity and enable the integration of newcomers
to the city, especially youth; the canton was reworking its
information about racism. Castella said most Muslim
immigrants originated in the Balkans; problems from this
group often resulted from the socio-economic difficulties of
their immigration situation. West African asylum seekers,
though few in number, presented similar difficulties and
problems; they engaged in street violence, not terrorism.
Pahud described the very low number of reported anti-Semitic
incidents (two graffiti incidents in the last five years); he
has a record only of formal reports of anti-Semitic
incidents. Permits were required for all demonstrations,
including by pro-Palestinian groups, but displays of
anti-Semitic signs would not necessarily be investigated
unless there was a complaint; all protests had been peaceful.
He also hypothesized that the Israeli Mission in Geneva may
plant incidents to test the Geneva government's security

--------------------------------------------- -----------

7. Dr. Rickman opened his meeting with High Commissioner for
Human Rights (HCHR) Louise Arbour by asking her to consider
making a strong statement against anti-Semitism and Holocaust
denial. Arbour pointed to her statement on UN Holocaust
Memorial Day and other occasions, but implied she did not see
the need for anything further at the moment. On the question
of Israel's treatment in the Human Rights Council (HRC),
Arbour said that 90 percent of the Israel-specific
initiatives were indeed in bad faith and merged a critique of
the state of Israel with anti-Semitism; while the HCHR had no
mandate to protect any one state, the office did need to
stand up once criticism of the state crossed into criticism
of a people. However, she pointed out that the Canadian
Israel and Jewish Association (an NGO recently harrassed by
Iran in Durban Review Conference preparations) confused
matters by including the name of a nation in its title; she
also emphasized that it was essential to retain the ability
to critique all states, including Israel, in the HRC.
Islamophobia issues in the HRC were also brought up in both
good and bad faith. She said that the difficulty of
distinguishing between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism would
remain intractable until problems in the Middle East were
solved. Arbour asked that the U.S. and other Western and
Other Group (WEOG) governments be more aware that their
tendency to privilege civil and political rights over
economic, social, and cultural rights is perceived as
hypocritical by others. Arbour was not open to Rickman's
suggestion that she create a Special Advisor on anti-Semitism
and Islamophobia, saying she thought it would encourage the
tendency not to address discrimination of people who lack an
HRC or OHCHR category.

8. In a separate meeting, Michael Wiener (of OHCHR) said
that Special Rapporteur (SR) on the Freedom of Religion Asma
Jahangir brought up anti-Semitism whenever relevant both on
country visits as well as in communications sent to
countries. To draw more attention to the issue in reluctant
countries, she had started following up on allegations with
her own assessments, whether or not she received a response
to the initial communication. Country visits during which
she addressed anti-Semitism include: the United Kingdom,
France, Tajikistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Israel. Wiener
said SR Jahangir was keenly interested in preventing
incitement on both sides in Israel, and particularly in
efforts to prevent teaching discriminatory attitudes to
children. Many visit requests are outstanding, including to
the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Jahangir has not
commented on the issue of anti-Semitic KSA textbooks and
Wiener noted that addressing the textbook issue was delicate
and a full analysis required access to the actual books. Dr.
Rickman said he had access to translations of the books in
question, and Wiener indicated the SR's office would be
grateful for them. Jahangir has not addressed the question
of similar Iranian textbooks, either, nor did her predecessor
do so when he visited in 2005. However, Jahangir does
regularly bring up anti-Semitism and religious discrimination
(particularly against the Baha'i community) in communications
and press releases about Iran.

6. Wiener also backstops the office of the SR on Racism,
Doudou Diene and went on to discribe SR Diene's work. Wiener
pointed out that the resolution establishing the mandate
obligates the SR to cover Islamophobia, Christianophobia, and
anti-Semitism, but that SR Diene had pushed to include a
wider range of religions in that mandate. Wiener remarked
that Diene had been "quite blunt" in condemning the Iranian

president's call to wipe out Israel. On the issue of
defamation of religion, Wiener noted that SR Jahangir is no
fan of the concept and SR Diene has said, in the context of
Durban review, that he would prefer a focus on incitement to
religious and racial hatred over the focus on defamation of
religions themselves. Wiener and Dr. Rickman briefly
discussed the Toledo education guidelines for encouraging
religious awareness and tolerance; while Wiener emphasized
that the guidelines were not binding, he did find them to be
a good list of best practices.


7. Dr. Rickman and Israeli Ambassador Isaac Levanon
brainstormed on how to set up rapid response talking points
for defenders against anti-Semitism around the world. They
expressed a shared desire to combat anti-Semitism with the
same vigour that its supporters display. Ambassador Levanon
suggested joint US and Israel cooperation to draw up such
points; Dr. Rickman pointed to his recent report as a
possible source upon which Israel might draw for such
pre-drafted responses. They also discussed the venue for the
Durban Review Conference, with Ambassador Levanon showing a
preference for New York, where he felt the public would be
more "on our side"; he said Jerusalem favored Vienna, where
laws against anti-Semitism might curb a repeat of the
disastrous NGO Forum of the 2001 conference (note: Geneva was
chosen as the review conference venue that afternoon. End
note.). Ambassador Levanon raised the prospect of a separate
conference at the same time as the review conference to
highlight the problems of the main conference.

8. Dr. Rickman asked Egyptian Ambassador Sameh Shoukra and
Minister Plenipotentiary Ihab Gamaleldin their views on the
Canadian NGO CIJA (see above note). Ambassador Shoukra said
the problem was a procedural one: CIJA chose not to answer a
"last and crucial question" about their support for the
Durban review process. He further stated that the GOE had no
ability and no desire to place limits on any NGO forum at the
Durban Review Conference; they were focused on maintaining a
consensual government process. When asked about parallels
between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, Ambassador Shoukra
distinguished between the defamation issue, which arose from
a concern to protect all faiths, and Islamophobia, which was
racial discrimination against Muslims. He appreciated the
consistency of the U.S. position of protecting all free
speech, as opposed to European laws forbidding some
defamatory speech, but not defamations of Islam. Minister
Gamaleldin took issue with his experience in the Human Rights
department of the MFA in Cairo, where he claimed that the
U.S. had asked him to prohibit anti-Semitic cartoons under an
anti-defamation law. Dr. Rickman thought that request
probably had been in reference to cartoons in official
Egyptian media; in response, Ambassador Shoukra pointedly
remarked that official Egyptian media is "just as free as the
BBC"--and suggested the U.S. line might have more
consistently encouraged any and all cartoons in Egyptian
official media. Ambassador Shoukra expressed hope of finding
an approach to defamation that might bring the U.S. on board.

9. Dr. Rickman's discussion with Marghoob Saleem Butt, from
the Pakistani Mission to the UN, focused on the distinction
between criticism of the state of Israel and anti-Semitism.
While Butt said Pakistan works against anti-Semitism
throughout the UN system and abhors it as much as it abhors
Islamophobia, he saw a need to preserve a way to critique
actions of the state of Israel. Regarding Pakistani
promotion of anti-defamation of religion language in the UN
system, Butt freely acknowledged the difference in opinion on
the legality of protecting a concept versus a protecting a
person, but said that when one religion was linked to a
certain perception of all its adherants, the two protections
were intertwined. Dr. Rickman asked about the blurring of
lines that led to Jews in other countries being blamed for
Israel's actions, to which Butt responded that this was
"stupid, and the same argument that links all Muslims to
terrorism." He also emphasized the OIC position that a new
instrument is needed to address Islamophobia and the
defamation of religion.

© Scoop Media

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