June 9, 2021 — Brussels, Belgium
“Our fight against antisemitism is more urgent than ever,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told thousands participating in the 2021 American Jewish Committee (AJC) Virtual Global Forum. The commission, she announced today, will adopt later this year “the first-ever EU strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.”
Surging, violent attacks on Jews in Europe and the United States “are a stark reminder of how dangerous antisemitism is for our societies. It is a poison for our democratic values and an attack on our way of life,” she said. “We must fight it together, and we have to eradicate it.”
The new plan is aimed at strengthening Europe’s fight against antisemitism, preserving Holocaust memory, and fostering Jewish life in Europe.
“All European students should learn about the Holocaust, no matter their background, family history, country of origin,” she added. “For many of our young people, the events of the Holocaust seem to belong to a distant past. Some have never even heard of Auschwitz.”
She said the Commission is committed to protecting and fostering Jewish life in all its diversity. “We are immensely glad that, 76 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life is thriving again in schools, kindergartens, synagogues, and fashionable kosher restaurants,” said von der Leyen. “We want to make sure that Jews are free to follow their religious and cultural traditions…They are the heart of our communities, and we will never allow them to be threatened again.”
Ending “hatred and antisemitism on the Internet” is a key component of the plan. “The COVID-19 pandemic in particular has shown how quickly antisemitic conspiracy myths can spread,” von der Leyen emphasized.
“Online platforms have a crucial role in disseminating and promoting antisemitism material, and, therefore, they must take greater responsibility…Every business, especially powerful tech giants, has to combat hatred and to stand for historical truth.”
Developing and implementing effective means to combat hatred of Jews has been a priority for von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, since she became president of the EC in 2019. “I stepped up Europe’s fight against antisemitism,” she declared.
The new EC plan announced today at the AJC Virtual Global Forum follows on other significant initiatives, including EU-sponsored events at the UN, on antisemitism. “We are strongly committed to building a future free of antisemitism in Europe and beyond,” the European leader noted.
In January, the Commission, together with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), published a handbook for the practical use of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. With the handbook, “we aim to support policymakers, judges, prosecutors, teachers, in recognizing antisemitic bias in their daily work,” she said. “To eradicate antisemitism, you must be able to identify every manifestation of it, including where it is subtle and insidious.”
The EC President also cautioned that the commission “will take action if any European money is used to call into question Israel’s right to exist.”
“Israel is a vitally important country for the European Union, not only because of our common past, but also because of our common future,” she said.
On April 25, the EU and Israel celebrated 25 years of cooperation in science and innovation. “Europe can learn from Israel’s successes. Israel is known to quickly turning science successes into business opportunities,” von der Leyen affirmed. In addition, Israeli scientists and organizations have participated in 2100 projects to date in Horizon 2020, the EU research program.
Von der Leyen saluted AJC for its longstanding relationship with Germany, engagement with the European Union, and promotion of transatlantic relations. “AJC has been at the forefront of reestablishing the Jewish community’s relationship with Germany. Only three years after the end of the war, AJC was the first global Jewish organization to engage,” she said. “AJC has been a strong supporter of the European Union and NATO alliance,” she said. And the Brussels-based AJC Transatlantic Institute “plays an important role in our conversations with Israel and across the Atlantic.”
In closing, the EC President praised AJC CEO David Harris, with whom she has met on several occasions, she recalled. “AJC has been so successful for such a long time because you care about what you fight for, you never give up on your mission, and you have that unique ability to foster friendships around the world. Many of those friends are here today at AJC’s Virtual Global Forum, and I am happy to be one of them."