WASHINGTON (EJP)---The US State Department revealed a marked rise in anti-Semitism across the world “manifested in Holocaust denial, glorification, and relativism”, with the release of its annual report on International Religious Freedom on Monday.
Invoking Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, including “freedom to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”, the report found that Jews “in many parts of the world” are living in societies and under governments that “abuse or restrict freedom of religion”.
As well as citing anti-Israel sentiment as being used as justification for anti-Semitic activity across the world, the report also reserved criticism for the Israeli administration’s religious policy, identifying that while free religious practice is largely guaranteed, “governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued”.
Restrictive policies were most evident in the West Bank, it noted, where “the government’s closure policies and the separation barrier restricted the ability of Palestinian Muslims and Christians to reach some places of worship and ro practice their religious rites, particularly in Jerusalem”.
Describing inter-faith relations in the Jewish State as “strained”, it was equally critical of Hamas-governed Gaza, saying of the group that it “has exercised de facto authority over the territory and has enforced conservative Islamic law, harassed non-Muslims, and imposed religious restrictions on women”, since its 2007 political coup.
Elsewhere, identifying as a key discriminating factor governments introducing “registration laws that favoured state-sanctioned groups”, as in Hungary, where the parliament brought in legislation to regulate the registration of religious groups, it noted that the law of January this year succeeded in “reducing the number of recognised religious groups from over 300 to fewer than 32”.
Addressing the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace following the release of the report on Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “governments that seek the illusion of freedom by creating official state-sanctioned religious associations say ‘Look, our people can practice whichever of these pre-approved faiths they choose’. But if people are caught going outside these associations to form their own communities or receive instruction from their own religious leaders, they can be imprisoned”.
“Religious freedom is not just about religion,” she emphasised. “Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship without the state looking over their shoulder.”
Articulating the rise of “nationalist movements that target ‘the other’”, as well as “traditional forms of anti-Semitism, such as conspiracy theories, acts of desecration and assault, “blood libel”, and cartoons demonising Jews”, the report also details the key offending administrations from around the world.
Condemning the official media outlet of Venezuela for publishing “numerous anti-Semitic statements”, as well as last year’s spate of Jewish cemetery and synagogue desecrations in France, it also noted that several football matches in the Ukraine and the Netherlands were “marred by anti-Semitic slogans”.
By contrast, it found that “in France, members of a Jewish-Muslim friendship association travelled around the country to educate youth about Islam and Judaism”, serving as a prime example that “countries whose constitutions, laws, policies, and practices protect religious freedom and human rights will be the most vibrant and stable”.
Much of its condemnation on the score of anti-Semitic activity was reserved for Egypt, which last year underwent a popular uprising which overthrew long-time authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak, where it claimed “anti-Israel sentiment in the media was widespread and sometimes included anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial or glorification”. It also noted the controversial Iranian regime allowed websites to operate in its country which promoted Holocaust denial.
Iran was further singled out for criticism on account of its imprisonment of seven leaders of the Baha’i community on charges of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic”, as the report claimed the government had further created “a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups”, including Jews.
Clinton stressed the need for the report, in order to raise awareness of the impact of religious intolerance. “The absence of religious freedom can create a climate of fear and suspicion that weakens social cohesion and alienates citizens from their leaders,” she said.
The Secretary of State continued to speak passionately of the role of governments and religious leaders alike in promoting free religious practice and peace between religions. Religious freedoms, she argued “are not granted to us by any government. Rather it is the responsibility of government to protect them.”
“Now religious leaders have a critical role to play in this process. And we need them to encourage their followers to embrace the principles of peace and respect, which are not only tenets of nearly every religion but also at the heart of religious freedom. And then, most importantly, we need leaders to affirm that respecting the religious freedom of others is keeping with – not in opposition to – one’s own rights. When people of all religions can practice freely, it creates an environment in which everyone’s freedom is more secure,” she continued.
Having underlined the dangers of prescribed religion and religious practice, she went on to highlight emerging democracies of last year’s Arab Spring, invoking her recent visit to Egypt as a prime example. Whilst heralding newly-elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s promise to build an inclusive government and “be the president of all the Egyptian people”, she called on him not only to deliver on his promise to put Christians and women in positions of leadership, but also to respect all religious factions alike.
“I heard from Christians who want to know that they will be accorded the same rights and respect as all Egyptians in a new government led by an Islamist party,” she revealed. “They wonder, understandably, will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamist principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally? Since this is the first time that Egypt has ever been in this situation, it’s a fair question. Egyptians are building a brand new democracy,” she added, and “Egyptians will be writing the answers to those and many other questions for years to come”.
Insisting the US would continue to maintain diplomacy with all political factions in the country and “stand firmly on the side of principles”, he said Americans looked to an Egypt that practiced “real democracy, where every citizen has the right to live, work, and worship how they choose; where no group or faction can impose their authority or their ideology or their religion on anyone else”.
Holding the American values up as model for the fractured Middle Eastern political climate, she said: “The religious life of our nation is vibrant and alive And that has been possible because of our citizens’ capacity over tile for tolerance and respect, but also because of the work of our government t uphold our Constitution, to take extraordinary care not to favour one religion over another, and to protect equally the rights of all.”