America Is Walking Away From Fighting Hate in Europe

Opinion

By Andrew Baker

Published March 06, 2008, issue of March 14, 2008.
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A successful American initiative to train European police to respond to hate crimes is in danger — not from European nations, who have embraced the groundbreaking effort, but from the negligence of our own State Department.

Five years ago, alarmed by a dramatic increase in violent antisemitic incidents, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hosted the first international conference on antisemitism. The American delegation to the conference proposed that the OSCE develop tools to assist the organization’s 55 member nations in training police to monitor and respond to hate crimes.

American police had considerable experience in dealing with desecrations of cemeteries and houses of worship, attacks on persons because of racial and religious hatreds, and other bias crimes. They recognized the importance of distinguishing their special nature, and of working closely with victims’ groups as part of community policing. They learned how to investigate such crimes, to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators. In contrast, most European police departments still made no distinctions for hate crimes and few had any contact with ethnic and religious minorities.

The OSCE appointed Paul Goldenberg, a law enforcement veteran, to establish its program. As chief of New Jersey’s Office of Bias Crimes during the 1990s, Goldenberg was responsible for training police to respond to hate crimes. He later developed federal guidelines to be implemented countrywide.

Goldenberg was joined by James Nolan, a former chief of the Uniform Crime Reporting Section of the FBI and a national expert in recording and analyzing hate crime data. Together with two senior officers from Canada and the United Kingdom, they established the OSCE’s Law Enforcement Officers Program, or LEOP. Using an effective American curriculum, they produced a hard-nosed program of police training police.

LEOP officers visited Paris after the murder of Ilan Halimi, a French Jew kidnapped and tortured in a Paris suburb in January 2006. They met with the Gendarmerie Directorate as well as with members of France’s Jewish community, who were feeling distraught and vulnerable.

When skinheads and neo-Nazis threatened to converge on Novi Sad in Serbia last summer, a LEOP team came to guide their Serbian police colleagues. At the request of the Romanian government, they met with Roma communities and police departments in Bucharest, Transylvania and Moldavia, offering guidance in hate crime investigation and community partnerships.

Little love is lost between Russia and the OSCE, whose election observers have been consistently unwelcome. But to combat the rising number of violent attacks on Jews and other minorities, OSCE police trainers were in Moscow in January to share their skills with Russian police officials.

LEOP, in short, has had quite an impressive record over the last several years.

When the OSCE created this innovative police-training program, it enjoyed enthusiastic American support. A savvy American ambassador to the OSCE secured additional funds and exhorted his European colleagues to do the same.

The experience has proven wrong the early skepticism that this American program would work in Europe. Despite national tensions, police commanders from Serbia and Croatia, and from Romania and Hungary — countries that have confronted ethnic tensions across uneasy borders — found a common language in the problems each faces. Today, there is an informal network that links hate crime monitors from police departments in 14 countries.

Yet even as European nations have come to embrace LEOP, American financial support has dropped significantly, the result of budget cuts and the waning interest of an administration nearing the end of its term. Thanks to turnover on the OSCE desk at the State Department and at the American mission to the OSCE in Vienna, few people remain who remember how this program came to be.

At a recent Helsinki Commission hearing about support for this police-training program, New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith was told by the State Department’s special envoy for combating antisemitism that “we are only one of 56 members” and suggested that the American contribution of $100,000 over the last three years was generous. The Dutch government, however, gave $375,000 to the program in the last year alone.

But the issue is not just funding. Low-level diplomats at the American mission to the OSCE have apparently been given the freedom, or perhaps the instructions, to enforce a homophobic agenda. One FBI trainer who had come to share his experience on American data collection strategies was told to remove any material dealing with hate crimes based on “sexual orientation.” Since collecting this information had long been standard practice back home, he asked the American diplomat why. “Because we will oppose it,” he was told.

Since the 2003 OSCE meeting in Vienna at which the police-training was suggested, the organization has hosted several high-level conferences addressing antisemitism and other forms of intolerance. A common refrain heard in the corridors, even as foreign ministers were speaking in the plenary hall, was that speeches are all well and good but there must be tangible action on the ground.

LEOP is that action on the ground. The United States was instrumental in creating it. Who would have imagined that it would also be instrumental in ending it?

Rabbi Andrew Baker is the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs.


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