After months of calls by Jewish leaders, a senior European Union official has voiced support for the creation of a continental task force on anti-Semitism.
In a statement published in the Italian daily La Repubblica, European Commission President and High Representative or Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini endorsed the idea and stated that she had passed on a policy recommendation to that effect to Frans Timmermans, the EU commissioner dealing with issues of fundamental rights.
“I transferred the idea to Frans Timmermans, who has the formal authority in this issue, and we are already working on various initiatives,” she said, according to a translation of the statement this week on the EUobserver website.
In January, a delegation from the European Jewish Congress stated that in the wake of the recent Islamist attack that killed four Jews at Paris’s Hyper Cacher kosher market, the EU must ramp up its efforts to protect its Jewish citizens.
The following month, a Muslim man shot a Jewish man as he stood watch outside a Copenhagen synagogue.
Speaking at January’s meeting, EJC President Moshe Kantor asserted that it was “incumbent on the European Union to urgently place combating anti-Semitism as one of its highest priorities, because this is a hatred that transcends borders and cannot be dealt with by any single nation on its own.”
Italian lawmakers later took up Kantor’s call, writing to Mogherini last week and imploring her to take action on the issue.
Responding to her statement on Tuesday, Kantor said he was “delighted with the momentum on this issue since we first raised it many months ago.”
He declared that “we need a pan-EU body that will coordinate intelligence efforts between member states, the sharing of such information, assisting with legislation changes to enable the member states to address this challenge with proper tools and deal with proper training and security measures in the protection of Jewish institutions by the authorities. This wave of anti-Semitic terror is a pan-European problem and should be dealt as such in a united and coordinated manner.”
Terror attacks against Jews “demand a high-level response, and that response must encompass the entire EU,” agreed Anti-Defamation League chief Abraham Foxman in a statement.
“Some national governments are taking important steps to address anti-Semitism, but action is also required at the EU level for Europe’s Jews to truly feel more secure.”
Several past and present heads of European Jewish communities spoke out Wednesday in favor of the proposed commission, although there were some reservations about implementation.
Mogherini’s statement “illustrates how, slowly but surely, the European authorities are taking the highly necessary initiatives to concretely confront the problem of aggressive and murderous Jew-hating on the continent,” Baron Julien Klener, president of the Consistoire Central Israèlite de Belgique, told The Jerusalem Post.
However, only once the task force is set up will European Jews be able to measure its impact outside the realm of words, he cautioned.
Eli Ringer, the immediate past president of Belgium’s Forum der Joodse Organisaties, said that his country’s Jewish leadership intended to meet with Timmermans in the near future to continue lobbying for pan-European action.
The impact of a task force would be “very meaningful for all member states” if it led to the creation of a European Commission post that dealt with fighting anti-Semitism, said Benjamin Albalas, the erstwhile president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.
While support for Mogherini was generally high among senior Jewish officials, Mark Gardner of Britain’s Community Security Trust – an anti-Semitism watchdog – cautioned that calls for a new body to deal with hatred “miss the essential point, which is the actual ability or willingness of member states to implement recommendations, such as those already made in existing EU and EC forums.”
He stated that “implementation problems include, but are not limited to: failure by many states to fully transpose or utilize [the] EU Common Framework Decision of 2008, which requires criminalization of incitement to hatred and Holocaust denial; [the] OSCE Ministerial Agreement of 2009, requiring instigation of a complete criminal justice process of dealing with incitement; [the] OSCE Berlin Declaration requiring states to properly combat anti-Semitism; and [the] ECRI General Policy Recommendation on Antisemitism, requiring combating and educating about anti-Semitism.”
Anti-Semitic incidents across Europe have been rising for a number of years. They surged over the summer during the IDF’s ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, leading to a number of high-profile condemnations of anti-Semitism from European leaders.
In 2013, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency reported that a third of Jews in a number of countries were mulling emigration, while close to three-quarters of French Jews polled last May indicated that they were considering leaving the country. According to a survey that the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism released earlier this year, over half of British Jews expressed concern that they had no future in their country.
Last month, a group of senior lawmakers said the UK needed to take urgent action over anti-Semitism. The MPs asserted that the government, police and prosecutors had to act “to ensure Jewish communities have the necessary protection from the continuous terrorist threat they face.”
Among their 34 recommendations was a call for a governmental fund to pay for security at synagogues, and the creation of an independent council to monitor trends in anti-Semitism.
A third of Italian Jews believe that their country has seen an increase in anti-Semitism, according to a recent report by London’s Institute for Jewish Policy Research.
In December, the European parliament declined to establish a task force to deal with the issue – despite what was perceived to be widespread support – eliciting harsh condemnations from Jews worldwide.
Reuters contributed to this report.