How the State of Israel can help fight against anti-Semitism in Europe

On April 16, in Israel and Jewish communities around the world, we will observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year marking 70 years since the end of the Holocaust.

April 15, 2015 22:42
Holocaust  Remembrance Day

A memorial candle for Holocaust Remembrance Day. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

On April 16, in Israel and Jewish communities around the world, we will observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year marking 70 years since the end of the Holocaust.

Seventy years ago, as the death camps of Europe were liberated, the international community took a collective oath of “Never Again,” to swear that we would do everything within our power to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust would never be repeated.

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Yet, 70 years since the end of the darkest chapter in Europe’s history, anti-Semitism has once again surged to levels unprecedented since the end of the Holocaust, with virtually no part of Europe free from this indomitable evil.

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Today, in 2015, we are seeing Jews murdered on the streets of Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen for no other reason than simply being Jewish. Rarely does a day go by without reports of violence against Jews, attacks on synagogues, desecration and destruction of Jewish cemeteries or looting of Jewish-owned stores.

And just this past summer, in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas, the streets of Europe were raging with violent anti-Israel protests and overflowing with hatred of Jews, with chants of “death to Jews,” “Hitler was right” and “Jews get out” becoming commonplace.

A November 2013 report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that almost one-quarter of European Jews hide their identity out of fears of anti-Semitism, while a May 2014 report by the Anti-Defamation League estimated that a staggering 26 percent of the world – 1.09 billion people – harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, with Western Europe at 24% and Eastern Europe at 34%. In 2015, it is widely expected that these figures will be even higher.

In France, for example, where the Jewish community accounts for less than 1% of the population, in 2014 they were the victims of approximately 50% of all reported attacks based on race, religion or ethnicity.

In the UK, which has the second largest Jewish community in Europe behind France, 2014 was the highest year on record for anti-Semitic attacks, more than doubling from 2013.

Just this past week, Dutch soccer fans were boasting of their Nazi heritage and chanting “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” at a football match, while the chief rabbi of Netherlands noted that being called a dirty Jew is apparently “normal” today.

The only difference since the Holocaust is that today’s anti-Semitism is not directed solely against Jews as individuals, but also motivates vicious public assault upon and vilification of the legitimacy of the State of Israel, or as renowned human rights activist and former Canadian attorney general and justice minister Irwin Cotler put it, “the Jew among the nations.”

This “new anti-Semitism” is being waged by a dangerous and unholy alliance of militant Islam, the neo-Nazi far Right and the far Left. We see examples today in the form of the denial of Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish People, the BDS Movement, odious comparisons to Nazis and attempts to single Israel out for special opprobrium.

Perhaps nowhere is this confluence of old-new anti-Semitism more self-evident than in the Iranian regime, which denies the Holocaust and boasts (as recently as two weeks ago) that Israel’s destruction is “non-negotiable.”

So where does this place Israel in the context of the global fight against anti-Semitism? Ideally, anti-Semitism should not be seen solely as a “Jewish only” problem, but as part of a broader European problem. As Herman Van Rompuy, the immediate-past president of the European Council said, anti-Semitism is “a crime against Europe and its culture, against man and its humanity. To be anti-Semitic is to reject Europe.”

Having said that, Israel, as the nation-state of the Jewish People with an inextricable deep-rooted connection to Jews in the Diaspora, also has a moral and historical responsibility to fight anti-Semitism.

To be sure, the Israeli government is already taking many steps in this regard. Next month for example, under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Israel will convene the 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, bringing together officials and experts from Israel and around the world.

But more, much more can still be done.

As the government finalizes the new coalition following the recent elections, it will adopt a new set of policy guidelines. Besides the obvious threat of a nuclear Iran and domestic concerns like reducing the cost of living, combating anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel must be elevated to key priority status.

We are also faced with the situation where currently multiple government departments and agencies share the burden in fighting anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel, including the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry, Diaspora Affairs Ministry and Strategic Affairs Ministry, with messages often mixed and resources divided.

The government should consider creating a new national authority to be headed by a special Cabinet-level envoy to co-ordinate its efforts in this critical mission on behalf of all the various governmental departments and agencies. This new authority should be empowered with all the legislative tools and powers, as well as the necessary support, political backing and funding to carry out this task.

This should help lead to a more coordinated, strategic and effective counter- attack by the government.

Israel must also make the combating of anti-Semitism, as well as BDS, a key priority in its bilateral relations with European states and at various EU institutions, including tying in trade with a commitment from European states to take concrete steps to fight anti-Semitism in their countries.

Recent attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen are a deadly and unmistakable reminder that, ultimately, it is the Jewish communities themselves who are at the forefront of anti-Semitism.

Although there is already considerable cooperation between the government and Jewish communities and various pro-Israel organizations and civil society groups in the fight against anti-Semitism, this could be reinforced even further. There must be a constant hotline open between the government and these groups, with Israel ready and able to provide real-time information, assistance and where necessary, resources, to help the Jewish communities.

Whether we are Jews in Israel, Europe or North America, we are ultimately united by our shared faith, history and connection to the State of Israel.

In combating anti-Semitism, our guiding principle ought to be that an attack against a Jew anywhere is an attack against Jews everywhere. Israel, as the state of the Jewish People, must take a more leading role in the combating of anti-Semitism, but this will only be effective if done so in coordination with the Jewish communities themselves.

Ambassador Yitzhak Eldan is the senior diplomatic adviser and Arsen Ostrovsky the director of research at The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC), an independent Israel- based non-profit organization devoted to promoting the principle of Israel as the state of the Jewish People and strengthening ties between Israel and the Diaspora, particularly with the Jewish communities of Europe.

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