EU on antisemitism: Hate crimes against Jews is everyone’s issue

Coordinator Katharina von Schnurbein reflects on year in post.

December 12, 2016 23:21
4 minute read.
FRANCE’S THEN interior minister Brice Hortefeux walks next to a tombstone desecrated by vandals with

FRANCE’S THEN interior minister Brice Hortefeux walks next to a tombstone desecrated by vandals with a Nazi swastika and the slogan ‘Jews out’ in the Jewish Cemetery of Cronenbourg near Strasbourg in 2010. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Antisemitism is not just a Jewish or Israeli problem, European Union coordinator on combating antisemitism Katharina von Schnurbein told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. A year after the EU created the new role and tapped von Schnurbein to take it on, the German official emphasizes the importance of using a holistic approach to tackle antisemitism and other forms of racism and xenophobia.

Indeed, when she was appointed last December, her colleague David Friggieri was designated the role of coordinator to combat anti-Muslim hatred, and the pair work closely together.

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“While the phenomena are very different, some of the instruments are the same,” von Schnurbein said. For instance, the code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online – established this year together with leading IT companies – covers all illegal hate speech. In addition, legislation on racism and xenophobia in Europe applies to issues faced by both communities.

Von Schnurbein mentioned an initiative financed by the European Commission, in which the European Union of Jewish Students collaborated with young Roma and Armenians. “Three communities that have experienced a genocide and now live as a diaspora in Europe,” she said.

“I heard a lot of positive echo about how they could see similarities, and they discussed how they could stand up and speak up for each other.”

“It doesn’t mean that the minorities... that the Jews are responsible for fighting antisemitism by themselves,” von Schnurbein said. “It’s a responsibility for society at large.

It’s not a Jewish problem, and it’s above all a problem of the antisemites.”

In her travels across Europe to visit Jewish communities, von Schnurbein makes an effort to also meet with Muslim groups working within their own communities to fight antisemitism.

“It’s a good rule to work with organizations that are willing to stand up not only for their own cause but also for the cause of others and we want to support this kind of coalition building,” she said.

Von Schnurbein is in Israel for the 10th EU-Israel Seminar on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Antisemitism, taking place in Jerusalem on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thirty representatives from Israel and the EU are set to gather to discuss their continuing work in combating antisemitism, exchanging experience and best practices.

At the seminar, Von Schnurbein is to present the first results of the implementation of the code of conduct, which lays out key commitments for reviewing flagged content online and removing illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours. Having worked on the issue with Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Schnurbein said while there is still room for improvement – with only 28.2% of flagged content being removed – the companies are taking the issue seriously.

“They have stepped up their training of their lawyers,” she said. “They are also employing more staff with regard to the revision progress... and they work closely with NGOs that are trusted flaggers.”

Online hate speech has been a major focus of von Schnurbein’s work this year “to get people out of their virtual reality” and to understand that the “Internet is not a legal black hole.” She said this link between the online world and the real world is being made increasingly in EU member states, and online perpetrators are finding themselves in real-life courts.

Von Schnurbein said both awareness of and action against antisemitism are on the rise in European countries.

“I think there is a significant difference nowadays in Europe,” she said. “There is a clear majority strongly standing up against antisemitism and for solidarity with Jewish communities.”

Referring to devastating terrorist attacks that have rocked Europe in recent years, she said non-Jewish Europeans now have a keener understanding of the perceived threat that Jewish communities have lived with for decades.

After a year of traveling, meeting with Jewish organizations and communities across Europe, von Schnurbein said one of the realizations that most struck her was the weight of the fear with which some Jews live, particularly in Western Europe.

“I was not aware of the extent of it,” she said, citing France, Belgium and Luxembourg as examples.

“The ultimate goal must be to create a situation in Europe where Jews can live without fear and can live the life they want to live, can be observant or not, send their kids to public schools or Jewish schools, not behind barbed wire,” she said. “At the moment we are far from it.”

Von Schnurbein said this vision can be achieved through close cooperation among the EU member states, via security, education and teacher training. She and her colleagues strive to increase the accessibly of already existing material on the Shoa, she said, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

In addition, she says it is important to teach students about the contributions Jews have made to European culture in the past and present and to build connections with the Jewish communities living in Europe today.

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