Speech of the Deputy Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Mr. Karagounis at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, Jerusalem, 28-30/5
Minister Bennett, Minister Elkin,
My fellow European Ministers Shatter, Germanas and Retvari,
Ambassadors, Professors, distinguished guests,
I would like first of all to extend my sincere thanks to the organizers of this conference for inviting me to participate. Thank you for the hospitality and the honor.
I am indeed delighted to be in Israel and it is a privilege to share my thoughts on anti-Semitism with you. Arye Mekel, the Ambassador of Israel in Greece and a friend of mine, who has made Israel mentally accessible to me, even before setting foot here, is also over there and I owe him thanks for all this.
In fact anti-Semitism, as unfortunate as this is, happens to be again on the rise in Europe as openly neo-Nazi parties do not hesitate to stand up and be counted. And although economic malaise can and should be held partly accountable for this development, it is still disconcerting, to say the least, that this unfolds, let alone in countries like Greece that has been so terribly scarred by the horrors of Second World War.
But of course anti-Semitism has many faces and neo-Nazi sympathizers and their Holocaust denial trade is just one of them. In fact, this is the more obvious and as such the easier form of anti-Semitism to deal with. Actually, as I see it, it is another form of anti-Semitism, namely that anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Israeli propaganda that should be of equal, if not of greater, concern.
So there is indeed bad news - anti-Semitism is alive and well. But there is also good news. What about them?
Well, vulgar anti-Semitism of the Holocaust-denying type, offensive as it maybe, can and will be tamed. It is indeed interesting to note that all important cases of Holocaust denial that reached the European Court of Human Rights has led deniers nowhere. The Court basically said that freedom of expression cannot be invoked to allow Holocaust denial. And national legislations is Europe evolve more and more in that direction. And although I understand that there is a debate in Europe that asks, in an Anglo-Saxon legal spirit, "why not let them free to say whatever preposterous they want, so much the better", I personally believe that in Europe, so much embedded in past history and its symbolism, this is not an option. I do personally believe that Holocaust denial should be criminalized and I predict that in the end it will be uniformly so across Europe.
But what about the other anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Israeli propaganda, the infamous incoherent nonsense that I have come across many times in my political career, sometimes put forward by laymen, sometimes, sad to say, by politicians, "We have no problem with the Jews, but we do have a problem with Israel".
Really? You have no problem with the Jews, but you do have a problem with Israel? Well, if so, then you are on the wrong side of things.
You see, as I see it. European public opinion has undertaken a silent transformation over the years vis-a-vis Israel. We do not live in the 60s or the 70s. Back then, the so called Western World had Soviet Union to deal with. Israel in a sense was taken by public opinion to be peripheral. But now the focus has changed and changed for good. Europeans do not have the Red Army to worry about now, but they do worry about terrorism, about fundamentalism, about nuclear arms in the hands of the wrong people, about our free way of life. And they worry a lot. And when they think about it, more often than not, they see what should have been clear from the start. That it is Israel that fights first and foremost for the things that worry us most. That it is Israel that it is the proxy for the settlement of the deepest fears of Western democracies. That the interests of Israel and our interest are fundamentally one and the same. That we have the same values. Or so I personally believe.
So as far as I am concerned anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Israeli propaganda will be defeated and soundly so for it is on the wrong side of things. It will be defeated and soundly so because European public opinion is now readier than ever to see the obvious and already has seen a lot and not only in Syria. Granted, it is as yet a mostly silent majority, but majority it is and the rest is pure logistics.
And it is precisely in that spirit that I want to end this short address of mine, by saying, that 1 consider myself a friend of Israel and I am doubly delighted to say so here, in the ancient, modern and eternal home of the Jewish people.
And frankly I find it hard to imagine of a strongest condemnation of anti-Semitism from what I just said.
Thank you for the attention.