This week in Athens, the European Jewish Congress’s executive body awarded Greek
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras a medal “in recognition of his courageous
leadership in protecting tolerance and human rights.”
representatives were acknowledging Samaras’s crackdown on Golden Dawn, a
political party that uses neo-Nazi rhetoric and whose members have brutally
attacked migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt.
unprecedented success in the June 2012 parliamentary election, in which it
received 7 percent of the vote, complicated efforts to investigate and prosecute
members of the party, since several of its leaders became lawmakers and enjoyed
parliamentary immunity. But when a Golden Dawn member stabbed to death Pavlos
Fyssas, a 34-year-old anti-fascist rapper and ethnic Greek, in the port city of
Piraeus, Samaras launched a broad criminal investigation of the political party
and indicted several of its lawmakers, despite opposition from some of his
advisers who feared doing so would hurt New Democracy, the center-right party
With Samaras slated to become president of the Council of
the European Union in January, the EJC, headed by businessman, philanthropist
and Jewish activist Moshe Kantor, would like to see him expand the crackdown on
Golden Dawn to additional extremist groups across Europe. The European Council
on Tolerance and Reconciliation, an organization Kantor established in 2008
composed of former heads of European states and Nobel Peace Prize laureates, has
drafted the Model Law for Promotion of Tolerance with help from legal experts
including Yoram Dinstein, professor emeritus of international law and human
rights at Tel Aviv University.
The legislation is meant to define, in
binding legal terms, principles of tolerance. The EJC, the European Council on
Tolerance and Reconciliation and other organizations are pushing to get all 28
EU member states to adopt the measure.
While members of the European
Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation such as José María Aznar, former prime
minister of Spain, have good intentions, enforcing tolerance via legislation is
First, drafting legislation designed to target specific
political groups is liable to be perceived as a witch-hunt, particularly by
groups susceptible to conspiracy theories. The example of Golden Dawn is
instructive. Greece did not need to draft any new laws to indict members of the
And the charges brought against them were criminal allegations,
not more nebulous, difficult to define claims of “intolerance” or
“anti-Semitism.” Nevertheless, opinion polls held in recent weeks report that
support for Golden Dawn has grown, in part due to perceptions that the party has
been unfairly singled out. And if the indictments end in acquittals, Golden
Dawn’s popularity is sure to grow even more. If political parties, movements or
individuals begin to be indicted for their opinions, there will surely be a
backlash of backing for precisely the sorts of extremist views the European
Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation seeks to eliminate.
the European Parliament adopts the legislation in its current form, freedom of
speech and expression are liable to be compromised in the name of
Section 2 (d), for instance, states that the purpose of the
statute is to “condemn all manifestations of intolerance based on bias, bigotry
and prejudice.” And an explanatory note to Section 2 states that “religious
intolerance is understood to cover Islamophobia.” But since Islamophobia is left
undefined, all critical scrutiny of Islam, including of attempts to implement
Shari’a law, could be defined as Islamophobia.
And even if the EU courts
in the end do not deem legitimate criticism of Islam as Islamophobia and
therefore punishable by law, there is a real fear that individuals and groups
will censor themselves and refrain from expressing opinions or moral views in
order to avoid lengthy court battles. We share with the ECJ and the European
Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation a desire to eradicate all forms of
bigotry – including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
But these terms are
notoriously difficult to define.
And legislation that criminalizes
intolerance is liable to achieve the opposite outcome – a popular outcry in
defense of the most abhorrent views.
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