Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), a leading human rights lawmaker in the U.S. Congress, was the keynote speaker today at the "Consultation on Conscience," hosted by the 1.5 million member Union for Reform Judaism, and the 2,000 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, at the largest Jewish public policy conference focusing on both international and domestic issues of concern to the American Jewish community.
Smith, co-chair of the Bi-Partisan Anti-Semitism Task Force and co-chair of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus, spoke about trafficking and anti-Semitism issues.
"In some countries, progress has indeed been made, yet the scope and outcome of anti-Semitic acts have not abated in others, and in some nations it has actually gotten worse--in France, the number of physical attacks on Jews more than doubled last year--just the increase in anti-Semitic acts was more than eight times the number of all other racist and xenophobic acts," said Smith, a senior member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee who chairs it human rights subcommittee.
The Congressman also discussed his law, the Trafficking Victims Protect Act (TVPA), enacted in 2000, and the hearing he chaired last week on the importance of properly grading every country's efforts to fight human trafficking. Since the TVPA created the State Department's TIP Report, more than 120 countries have enacted anti-trafficking laws and many countries have taken other steps required to significantly raise their tier rankings--citing the TIP Report as a key factor in their increased anti-trafficking response.
"Today I am especially concerned that the United States, pursuant to the TVPA, is failing to hold accountable countries that at best consistently refuse to prioritize the fight against human trafficking and at worst permit, enable and are complicit in the enslavement of their own citizens," said Smith. "Generally speaking, the TIP Report has been informative and accurate. But it has not always been forthright in designating egregious violators."
Smith said the State Department has allowed some countries to sit permanently on the Tier 2 Watch list--a designation short of the lowest Tier 3--and based on a country's small steps and mere promises to do better in the future. By law, this year China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Azerbaijan face downgrade to Tier 3 if they did not make significant efforts to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent trafficking.
Smith joins other past keynote speakers at the event, such as Elie Wiesel, President Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator John McCain and Governor Sam Brownback. Smith addressed the assembly at the Cannon House Office Building. He spoke of how he chaired Congress's first hearings on anti-Semitism in the 1990s, and his first trip abroad as a member of Congress in 1982 to the former Soviet Union, where he fought for the release of Jewish "refuseniks." An estimated 500 key rabbinic and lay leaders, supporters, and civic and cultural leaders were in attendance for the Consultation.
Smith, who is Co-Chairman of U.S. Helsinki Commission and an Executive Member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, chaired the landmark 2002 hearing, "Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe." He has worked to put the issue of anti-Semitism at the top of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) agenda, which resulted in the OSCE adopting new norms for its 56 member states on fighting anti-Semitism in 2004, and a series of high-level conferences on combating anti-Semitism.
Smith is the author of the provisions of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 that created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the U.S. State Department.