November 29, 2013
The European Union has had its share of daunting challenges.
From sluggish growth to punishing austerity, from high levels of
unemployment to fears of brain drain, and from volatile political environments
to relentless migration, there are more than enough issues to keep EU and
national leaders focused 24/7. And while some countries are more at risk than
others, the ties that bind the 28 member states mean that no one is entirely
immune from the gusty winds and storm clouds.
Now, there is another issue to add to the list.
Earlier this month, the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)
issued a comprehensive study on the experiences of Jews in eight of the 28
nations – Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, and the
United Kingdom—whose Jews comprise 90% of the EU’s total Jewish population.
Nearly 6,000 respondents took part.
Confirming the findings of earlier surveys done by outside groups
and local Jewish communities, it raises serious concern. That concern should
not be limited to Jews, since when Europe’s Jews feel at risk, the EU as a
whole is endangered in two ways.
First, the EU’s laudable commitment to protecting the human
dignity of each of its citizens is jeopardized.
And second, the history of anti-Semitism demonstrates that,
ultimately, those who target Jews usually have democracy itself, including the
rights of minority groups, in their crosshairs. In other words, bigotry may
begin with Jews, but it rarely ends with them.
Here are some of the disturbing findings from the just-published
Two-thirds of Jewish
respondents consider anti-Semitism to be a problem today in their countries.
Three-fourths believe the
problem has gotten worse in the past five years.
One-third fear a physical
attack against themselves, as Jews, within the next 12 months.
More than one-half claim they
personally witnessed an incident where the Holocaust was denied, trivialized,
Twenty-three percent say they
at least occasionally avoid attending Jewish events or visiting Jewish sites
because of safety concerns.
And more than 40 percent of
those surveyed in Belgium, France, and Hungary indicate they have considered
emigrating because of the situation.
Equally troubling, to quote
the study, is the following result: “A majority of the victims of anti-Semitic
harassment (76%), physical violence or threats (64%), or vandalism of personal
property (53%) did not report the most serious incident, namely the one that
most affected the respondent, in the past five years to the police or to any
In other words, if the
majority of victims of anti-Semitic incidents are not even reporting them to
the authorities, then they do not have confidence in the system, fear
retribution from the perpetrators, are unaware of where to go for help, or have
somehow come to accept the bigoted behavior as part of the “price” of being
Whatever the explanation, it
is unacceptable. Going forward, EU governments should strive mightily to ensure
not only a dramatic decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, but also
that those that do occur are reported to the proper authorities. Citizens of a
democratic society should never have to feel helpless or abandoned.
And it should make no
difference if the anti-Semitic act comes from extreme-right, extreme-left,
radical Islamic, or other sources. Targeting an individual because of his or
her specific group identity – in this case, as a Jew – is a potential hate
crime, and should be treated as such.
AJC has devoted many years to
developing response strategies to bias incidents, whether against Jews,
Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, Africans, or others, and certain things are
First, attitudes of tolerance
or intolerance, respect or lack of respect, are formed primarily at home and at
a young age.
Second, political leadership
counts. Either governments act against bigotry, both symbolically and
substantively, or, too often, they end up countenancing or rationalizing it.
Neutrality is not an option.
Third, education, if utilized
properly, can help teach respect and appreciation for difference. Otherwise, it
is a lost opportunity.
Fourth, religious leaders can
promote interfaith dialogue and friendship or, conversely, religious
obscurantism and triumphalism. Which will it be?
And finally, the police and
judiciary must understand the specific nature of hate crimes, collect proper
data, and treat cases with the seriousness they merit.
The EU’s FRA report is a
wake-up call. Sleeping through it, or pretending not to hear it, is not an
is executive director of the American Jewish Committee (www.ajc.org).