A CALL TO ACTION: Combating Antisemitism in Europe
(In May 2015, AJC convened in Brussels “A Defining Moment for Europe,” a strategy conference on combating antisemitism. The Call to Action adopted at the groundbreaking conference was updated in June 2018).
AJC renews its call on the political institutions of the European Union and its Member States to express at the highest levels a fundamental commitment to fight antisemitism.
We note that in the face of increased attacks on Jewish targets important European leaders have spoken forcefully in support of the Jewish community and condemning the perpetrators of these antisemitic incidents as being antithetical to core democratic values.
We commend the European Parliament for adopting a resolution on combating antisemitism that offers a set of comprehensive and pragmatic steps Member States can take to address the problem.
We are pleased that the European Commission has appointed a special coordinator for combating antisemitism and that several Member States are appointing their own national coordinators to marshal efforts. AJC had called for these and other steps in our 2015 Call to Action to Combat Antisemitism in Europe.
Still more can be said and done. In the face of growing xenophobia and increased support for far-right parties, all expressions of intolerance including antisemitism have intensified. In some countries where political leaders should otherwise be the first to challenge such language they are instead employing it for their own partisan goals. Some national leaders will insist that there is “zero tolerance” for antisemitism. While we welcome such expressions, saying does not make it so; these statements must be accompanied by actions.
This remains the central message: antisemitism is not only an attack on Jews, but on Europe and its values. Civil society—including faith leaders and other opinion-shapers—should be summoned to carry the message that antisemitism is socially, politically and religiously unacceptable, and concrete and sustained actions must follow.
We have witnessed a steady erosion of European Jews’ sense of physical security in their own day-to-day lives. Incidents of verbal and even physical harassment have become commonplace in major European cities. A siz
eable percentage of Jews refrain from wearing identifiable signs of their Jewishness in public. These fears combined with the still very real concerns that synagogues, schools and other Jewish buildings may serve as targets of terrorist attacks mean that the issue of security remains at the top of the agenda.
Most European governments today have come to acknowledge the vulnerabilities of their Jewish communities, while a lesser number are taking active measures to address these security needs. These should include providing additional funding for physical modifications of community buildings to make them more secure, providing police protection for holidays and special events, assisting in the costs of engaging private security services when necessary, and coordinating between community security personnel and police and intelligence services.
In 2017, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published Understanding Antisemitic Hate Crimes and Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities, a practical guide for governments with a comprehensive set of recommendations for them to follow. EU Member States and other countries, as well, should make use of this both to assess the security needs of Jewish communities and to determine what measures they must take.
AJC also takes note of efforts in several European countries to enact legislation that would restrict or ban the practice of ritual circumcision and religious slaughter. While they may not be antisemitic themselves, they have engendered antisemitism in the public discussions that surround them. Where restrictions are severe, they may very well pose obstacles to the future of Jewish communal life. We call on governments and national parliaments to uphold the freedom of religious practice.
MEASUREMENT AND ASSESSMENT
Only a minority of EU Member States collects comprehensive and disaggregated data on antisemitic hate crimes. To understand the problem and to devise the proper counter-measures it is necessary to have a detailed picture that fully describes the incidents of antisemitism and wherever possible also provides information on the perpetrators of those incidents. While many data forms indicate political motivation—such as left-wing or right-wing—fewer offer other categories for reporting. It is worth noting that in the 2013 survey of European Jews conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), 40 percent of the most serious incidents of physical violence or threats that they witnessed or experienced came from, “someone with a Muslim extremist view.” By contrast “someone with a left-wing political view” accounted for 14 percent of incidents, and “someone with a right-wing political view” accounted for only 10 percent of incidents. In France, home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, officials are barred from indicating religion or ethnicity when reporting data on antisemitic incidents, while some other countries choose not to collect this information. As such, a significant source of the problem remains unrecognized.
European Jewish Communities are ramping up their own monitoring efforts as well as including incidents such as online antisemitic postings that may not be recorded by police. In the UK and France, well-established community security organizations offer a model on how to collect this information. Their close cooperation with police and intelligence services is something that others should emulate.
Civil society organizations also play a critical role in monitoring and raising awareness and engaging the problem on a grass roots level. Unfortunately, these organizations are generally underfunded, so we encourage governments, as is now the case in Germany, to provide them with direct financial support.
Alongside data collection, opinion surveys provide an important means of identifying those segments of society that harbor strong antisemitic views. Such information is critical to assessing security concerns and devising educational programs. There is considerable value in surveys that have a sufficient sampling size to give a detailed picture of these groups. AJC recognizes the important contribution of the 2013 FRA survey of European Jews and welcomes the first follow-up survey now underway. This information provides a genuine understanding of what Jews themselves experience and how it influences their daily life.
AJC supports the adoption of the Working Definition of Antisemitism, which offers a concise definition and set of examples that illustrate the multi-dimensional nature of the problem. Notably, it includes examples that relate to the State of Israel. Anti-Zionism may serve as a mask for antisemitism, European Jewish communities may be conflated with Israel and targeted as a result, Israel itself may be demonized and equated with the Nazis. The Working Definition is an important educational tool for both civil society monitors and governments, where it can inform the work of police, prosecutors and judges.
The Working Definition has been endorsed by the European Parliament which calls on Member States as well as EU institutions and agencies to adopt and apply it, adopted by the 31-nation International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and formally adopted by a growing number of individual European governments.
Anti-Israel animus has become a central feature of antisemitic manifestations from the far-left, as we have witnessed in the ongoing debate inside the British Labour Party and in the French political arena. The Working Definition can bring clarity to these matters. It is employed by the United Kingdom in the training of police cadets and by the governments of Austria and Germany in the preparatory programs for prosecutors and judges. It is an essential tool for raising awareness among these key sectors of government, and we urge other countries to follow this practice.
GROWING SUPPORT FOR FAR-RIGHT PARTIES
Far-right and xenophobic parties have long been a part of the European landscape and a traditional source of antisemitism. Many observers had concluded that these movements were declining in number and influence and largely shunned by the political mainstream. However, in the face of growing immigration and in opposition to the concept of a strong European Union, these movements have gained new life. Alternative for Germany has entered the Bundestag. Austria’s Freedom Party is a member of the new coalition government in Vienna. The leader of France’s National Front made it to the final round of presidential elections. Italy’s two populist parties, the Five Star Movement and the League, triumphed in that country’s recent parliamentary elections. Whether serving in governments or standing in opposition in national parliaments, these parties are a new challenge to European democracies. They threaten to make hateful and antisemitic rhetoric a feature of normal, political discourse, and they openly trade in both new and long-standing forms of prejudice.
European leaders and civil society organizations must make every effort to condemn and isolate the xenophobic and antisemitic elements of these parties. Where governments are formed with these parties in coalition—as is the case in Austria and may be the case in Italy—clear red-lines should be established with the promise of dissolving such a government should those lines be crossed.
HOLOCAUST DISTORTION AND ITS IMPACT ON CENTRAL EUROPE
One of the most difficult challenges for the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s was confronting the legacy of their Holocaust-era past. Either under Soviet domination or annexation for half a century, there was no possibility for a critical examination of this painful and complicated history. The role of fascist-era governments and collaborators in the murder of the Jewish population was never taught, and even basic facts of the Holocaust were distorted or denied. Jewish property first stolen by the Nazis was then nationalized by the Communists.
As these countries moved to join NATO and the European Union they sought to address these issues. Historical commissions were established, drawing on international experts to provide a critical account of the Holocaust. Negotiations took place to return or pay compensation for confiscated Jewish communal properties, key to the revival of small but active Jewish communities. Most of them heeded warnings against rehabilitating fascist leaders who were complicit in Nazi crimes. Engaging in these efforts sent an important signal to their Western neighbors even as it provided a sense of security and well-being to their Jewish citizens, who were largely Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
However, this success has been incomplete and short-lived. Some governments, such as Poland and Hungary, seek to impose an official Holocaust narrative that both minimizes the role of local collaboration and impedes critical scholarship. Wartime era figures—Josef Tiso in Slovakia, Miklos Horthy in Hungary, Ion Antonescu in Romania, and Hristo Lukov in Bulgaria, among them—are being honored. As governments themselves become more populist and nationalistic, antisemitic incidents are also increasing.
We renew our calls of twenty years ago to support an open and critical evaluation of Holocaust-era history and ensure that it is part of educational curricula and to condemn any measures that would rehabilitate or pay honor to Nazi-era nationalists. Where countries have established well-regarded national museums and research centers, such as the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest, we urge governments not to compromise their independence and integrity. We further call on those governments that have not yet done so to complete the process of property restitution or compensation.
We cannot overstate the importance of education in the fight against antisemitism. General programs designed to combat racism and intolerance provide an important framework, especially for diverse and multi-cultural societies. But special attention must also be paid to the specificity of the problem and the audience if educational efforts to combat antisemitism will truly succeed. Antisemitism presents itself in unique forms, including conspiracy theories about Jews. As such, teachers should be trained both to teach about this and to be alert to its presence in the classroom.
Democratic values and respect for religious pluralism and ethnic diversity must be part of the education provided to the many new refugees and migrants from countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Holocaust education plays an important role in understanding both national history and unchecked antisemitism, but it must be taught in ways that reach diverse and even hostile students in many European public schools today.
However, the history of Jews in Europe is not limited to the years 1933-1945.
Jews and Judaism represent an essential contribution to what is commonly termed the Judeo-Christian tradition, considered one of the pillars of Western Civilization. Jews have lived in Europe since Roman times, and despite being buffeted by successive waves of antisemitism they have been part of the very nation-building that defines the Continent today. Awareness that Jews have lived as integrated members of European societies can serve as a cultural bulwark against antisemitism; thus, it is important to integrate Jewish history into the curricula of national history. The Jewish roots of Christianity, Biblical sources for our common views on contemporary issues, and important Church documents such as Nostra Aetate should also be referenced.
As anti-Israel animus can itself be a form of antisemitism, a truly three-dimensional understanding and appreciation of the State of Israel and its people is essential. The same applies to the discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict in schools and textbooks which all too often present a simplistic and one-sided narrative. Students should be taught about the Jewish presence in the region since Biblical times, Zionism as a movement of national liberation, and the diversity and modernity of contemporary Israeli society.
We call on appropriate European-wide and national bodies, both governmental and private, to develop the necessary curricula and educational tools to reflect these concerns.
We previously noted that the Internet and multiple forms of social media have allowed for the instant and universal dissemination of antisemitism and religious and secular extremism. We have urged social media companies to police their sites and remove antisemitic postings and have also called on Internet service providers to exclude raw hate speech. Unfortunately, we also recognize the limited success of relying solely on self-regulation by these companies.
We express our support for the Code of Conduct signed by the European Union with social media companies in May 2016, and with the threat of fines and legislation to facilitate the swift removal of incitement and extreme hate speech.
While most governments will monitor and report antisemitic hate crimes, few do the same with Internet and social media postings. However, as antisemitism in the virtual world can quickly lead to antisemitic incidents in the real world, we call on individual governments to undertake their own monitoring of social media sites and/or to support civil society efforts to do so.
In our transformed digital world, it is ever-more crucial to educate our young people on the ways in which social media can also manipulate their thoughts and feelings and to have the skills to filter their messages.