Remarks by Robert Trestan to OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Paris

Ensuring Religious Freedom Remains Safe in France: Best Practices from America

October 10, 2018


Anti-Semitism remains the world’s oldest forms of hatred. The targeting and scapegoating of Jews and Jewish communities dates back centuries. With the passing of each year, decade and century, the Anti-Semites have adapted, never giving up, always using the latest, most modern, most technologically advanced techniques to target, and intimidate us, and the one thing that has never changed is their hatred for Jews.

To keep our communities safe, to ensure that we can live and practice our faith without fear, we too must adapt, and ensure that we are bringing government, law enforcement and the community together to maintain confidence, enforce laws, and implement training.

Today we are focused on France, but make no mistake, this is a global issue and Jewish communities around the world are facing unprecedented attacks. I will focus on 5 best practices from America that with local customization can easily be adapted for effective use in France.

1) Police - Community Task Forces: Effective Solutions to Hate

Bringing people together to talk and solve problems is easy, inexpensive and can be highly effective. In the US we are beginning to see establishment of Government – Community Task Forces to deal specifically with hate crimes. This year in Massachusetts, Governor Baker, who is the highest elected official, established a Hate Crime Task Force. It is co-chaired by a government official and a community person.

I am one of several community people on the Task Force, which also has police, prosecutors and experts. We meet every 6 weeks. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we debate which approach or solution will be the most effective. But everyone is around one table and everyone is talking. It gives the community a place to bring concerns and ideas, while providing access to government decision makers.

The goal is to promote the full and effective coordination among law enforcement agencies in order to improve prevention; investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

The group is focused on ways to encourage the safe reporting of hate crimes, analyzing and publicizing data. We have developed a list of best practices for schools and police, and in the next few months our recommendations will be announced publicly and most importantly supported by the government. One upcoming recommendation is a police roll call video message that will be delivered to every police department in the State on the same date, highlighting the impact hate crimes have on everyone. It represents one consistent message to all police officers.

In this context NGO’s can act as an important resource for police and government officials. NGOs may be in the best position to encourage individuals, especially their own constituents, to report incidents to the police. Implementing hate-motivated data collection efforts and programs in partnership with community-based groups can greatly enhance police-community relations. Community groups can often act as the voice of credibility during the implementation phase.

Lack of communication and trust hampers efforts to address hate violence. Success requires that these barriers be broken down and the Task Forces can bean effective way of doing this.

2) Confronting Anti-Semitism through Education

What factors in a society a culture, a city, or country, allow anti-Semitism to grow and to metastasize into an act of vandalism against a synagogue to an assault against a child at school, or the murder of someone inside their home?

In 2017, the largest increase in anti-Semitism occurred in American schools. If students who are 14, 15, and 16 years are committing anti-Semitic acts now, what should we expect when they become adults?

One of the key methods for addressing anti-Semitism and hate in the future is through education programs for today’s teenagers. There are millions of students in school today throughout France. Developing and implementing anti-bias education programs for them is necessary if we want to reduce anti-Semitism by the time they get out of school.

ADL programs in America, help students recognize bias and the harm it inflicts on individuals and society by focusing on building understanding of the value and benefits of diversity and improving intergroup relations. Our program provides anti-bias training and curricula that promote respectful and inclusive schools and communities. If we, as a society, as a country, as leaders, do not teach young people to challenging anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry now, while they are young, we will miss the opportunity forever.

As Holocaust denial continues permeate with people around the world, it is important to teach, train and raise awareness amongst students and law enforcement about the lessons of the Holocaust. It is more important, and more relevant now than ever to include the Holocaust in education programs and training, particularly those geared toward police officers.

3) Access to Real Time Hate Crime Data

Data drives policy. The starting point for addressing hate violence in any country requires knowing the nature and magnitude of the problem. While France is sharing data with the ODIHR every year, most of the population is unaware.

This year we launched a new initiative encouraging American Police Departments to make real time hate crime data readily available on their websites which helps them improve resource allocation and raise community awareness of hate crimes. It is important to look at this as a two-way engagement opportunity that improves communication and problem solving between the police and the community.

Rather than waiting for end of the year reports, the data is published in real time. In the past, if we wanted to know how many hate crimes were reported in Washington DC we wait for a formal report, Today we can get a real time number directly from their website.

4) Data Collection & Importance of Disaggregation

In the US, analyzing data has become one of the critical tools in addressing hate crimes, but it requires breaking down the specific type of motivate that inspired the criminal act. For example, police officers have the ability to list an anti-Semitic hate crime as a distinct type of incident on reporting forms. Similarly, they are trained to list all of the accompanying bias indicators that lead to that conclusion.

Hate crimes remain amongst the most under-reported both in the United States and in the European Union. This happens because of fear, the stigma associated with the attack, and reluctance by police to document hate. Often it is based on the misunderstanding that high hate crime numbers make them look bad, so it is better to burry them. This is the wrong approach, and it is up to the community to change this perception.

This type of disaggregation of date not only ensures an accurate depiction of what happened, it ensures that the case is properly investigated, and lets the Jewish community know that the case is being treated seriously and given a high priority.

Boston, the City where I live and work ranks 21st in population size, a little more than 600,000 people, yet it consistently ranks among the highest when it comes to hate crimes. Why? Because all the police have been trained they have the oldest specialize hate crime unit in the country and people are not afraid to report because they know that the police will investigate and that the prosecutors will enforce the law. High hate crime numbers can be an indicator of a system that is fully functioning. Confidence within the community can alleviate under-reporting but it has to be a joint effort.

5) Comprehensive & Inclusive Police Training

The training that police receive remains one of the single most important factors determining how they respond to an anti-Semitic incident. How seriously does the responding officer take the vandalism on a Jewish home? Or business? Is it treated like a crime scene or discarded as the act of juveniles? How does the officer speak with and treat the Jewish victim?

Anti-Semitic incidents, anti-Semitic hate crimes are different from any other, requiring different training for new police officers and ongoing training for current officers.  

  • Training for all police officers on the identification of bias when responding to a call and inclusion of certain words, symbols in the report are the starting point. Officers must learn in advance to recognize the indicators, know how to respond, and be required to list them on reports. If not they are missed. Thousands of hate crime cases are not counted every year because of this. Since victim impact after a hate crime is more severe, it is advisable to have officers hear from and meet victims of anti-Semitism, during training. There is no substitute to direct interaction with someone who has been subjected to violence solely because of his or her religion. Police must be given the knowledge about the communities that they serve, including the impact when the community is targeted. Jewish and other impacted communities need to have a voice during training.
  • Because hate crime cases are unique; the evidence is different, the motive is hate, and the impact on the community is enhanced, specialized units or detectives can be highly effective. These officers are able to investigate but also work directly with the impacted community.
  • Designated officers at every police station responsible for hate incidents. We are beginning to see this model in America, where every department has at least one person who has been trained and acts as a liaison to the community. It allows for a comprehensive and inclusive approach to hate motivated crime.


Hate crimes are immune to international borders. They happen in countries all over the world and at every level of society. Enactment and implementation of laws is only the first step, the impact comes from collaboration, commitment and partnership between government and civil society. Only when this synergy exists is it possible to reduce anti-Semitism and ensure that people can practice their chosen faith without fear or intimidation, a basic right each of us entitled to.