December 19, 2018 — Warsaw, Poland
This piece originally appeared in ONET.
Actions of Governments in Europe Against Anti-Semitism Are Not Effective
By Agnieszka Markiewicz
The Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) survey leaves no illusions – anti-Semitism in today's Europe is a growing problem. Do the alarming poll results and the unprecedented Declaration of the Council of the European Union give hope for a reversal of this trend? And what is the situation of the Jewish community in Poland when compared to the other EU countries?
Over 16,000 Jews were surveyed. They were asked about how they perceive their own situation in their respective countries in the context of discrimination on the grounds of ethnic or religious origin. Almost 90% of respondents said that in the last five years anti-Semitism has intensified in their country. The vast majority of Jews in the EU perceive anti-Semitism as a "serious" or "very serious" problem: 95% in France, 86% in Belgium, 85% in Germany, 85% in Poland, and 77% in Hungary.
What is more, this situation, in the opinion of the respondents, has deteriorated over the last five years. 93% of respondents living in France agree with this statement, 89% in Germany, 83% in Poland, and 71% in Hungary.
The latest FRA report also shows that, on average, 1 in 5 people have relatives who have been victims of offensive comments, verbal assaults or physical violence over the last 12 months because of their Jewish identity. The figure for Poland is 25%.
Over half of Polish Jews are of the opinion that anti-Semitism is a serious problem, and almost everyone agrees that the authorities' reaction to this phenomenon is insufficient. As many as 91% of respondents consider measures taken by the government to be ineffective. It is not surprising, therefore, that 38% of Jews living in Poland have considered emigration from the country during the last five years.
This picture is in contradiction to the often-promoted conviction that anti-Semitism in Poland is a "margin of margins" and that Poland is a peaceful, safe haven when compared to other European countries. The FRA research is of great value, if only because it shows how the situation is perceived by those directly affected by anti-Semitism. This is important, as in Poland we often have to deal with neglecting and negating this problem.
You can regularly hear what does not amount to anti-Semitism. For example, insulting graffiti on the walls do not amount to anti-Semitism because they are "ordinary vandalism." Offensive comments on the internet do not amount to anti-Semitism "because the anonymity of the network fosters hate speech." Nor does selling at market stalls (or, as used to be the case, at the Parliament kiosk) little paintings or figurines of a Jew counting money – in the end, they are simply “harmless folklore.” There are many similar examples.
When one looks at the interpretation of tragic historical events, it turns out that they are also set against a context that may allegedly explain everything. There is no shortage of opinions that the Kielce pogrom was only a plot of the communist Security Office, and that the events of March 1968 were solely an internal power struggle within the Party. One may hear that, in both cases, anti-Semitism played a marginal, if any, role. Also, an instrumental treatment of history, without in-depth reflection on its darkest chapters, contributes to the image of the Jewish community as "ungrateful" and particularly unfavorable to Poland.
The question that arises is what must happen for anti-Semitism to be recognized as an actual problem. Poland is in a particular situation. In its homogeneous society, the Jewish minority is small, and its presence is not very visible. The vast majority of Poles have never met a person of Jewish origin. At the same time, we have a huge burden of history that leaves no doubt about where the lack of reaction to racism and hate speech can lead.
There is no doubt that the situation of the Jewish community in France, Germany, Sweden or other countries is alarming and unacceptable. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has repeatedly called upon European states to take serious steps against anti-Semitism.
The "Declaration on the fight against anti-Semitism” adopted unanimously by the EU Council on December 6 is of special importance. In the Declaration, the Council encourages Member States to "adopt and implement a comprehensive strategy to prevent and combat all forms of anti-Semitism" and "calls on those Member States that have not yet done so to adopt the legally non-binding working definition of anti-Semitism developed by the International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA) as a practical instrument in education and training, including law enforcement. "
Both the FRA report and the EU declaration show that although there are other sources and symptoms of anti-Semitism in various European countries, the problem is ubiquitous and must be taken seriously. Poland is no exception here.
Agnieszka Markiewicz is Rubin and Frances Partel Director of the Shapiro Silverberg AJC Central Europe Office.