EU anti-antisemitism czar: Migrants can unlearn anti-Jewish prejudices

Von Schnurbein: "steep increase in hate speech taken off social media platforms."

March 13, 2019 21:03
3 minute read.
People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. The writing on the sign reads: "Antisemitism, islamophobia, racism - not in our name". (photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)


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Migrants to Europe who have rid themselves of dictators can free themselves as well of antisemitic prejudices, the EU’s Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism said on Wednesday.

Katharina von Schnurbein said that people “who have taken upon themselves the challenge of ridding themselves of dictatorships, and making their way to Europe, are capable of stripping themselves of antisemitic prejudices if it is raised with the context of integration measures.”

And, she added, the EU has agreed that “knowledge about Jewish life, and the Shoah, and the acceptance of Jewish life should be part of integration measures.”

Appointed in 2015, von Schnurbein – from Germany – works with EU member states, the European parliament and civil society to develop and strengthen policy responses to antisemitism. She said that it was important that “all young people in Europe learn about the Jewish contribution to Europe throughout the centuries,” that they “understand better what the Shoah meant for Europe in terms of the interruption of culture,” what Jewish life is like today in Europe and what the resurgence of antisemitism means for Jews living there now.

Von Schnurbein, in the country to take part in a joint EU-Yad Vashem event to promote Holocaust research, said at a briefing at the EU offices in Ramat Gan that it must be impressed upon everyone – from teachers to judges – that any form of violence or hatred cannot be justified because there is a conflict somewhere else in the world, such as in the Middle East. A recent EU study on the perceptions of antisemitism shows that a majority of Europeans – some 54% – say the conflicts in the Middle East have an influence on the perception of Jews in their countries.

“It is important to understand that the perception that people have from looking at the Mideast conflict is not transposed on the perception of Jews in Europe,” she said. “European Jews are part of our society, and they are not to be held responsible for what is happening here.”

Von Schnurbein said that history has shown that whenever Jews felt that they needed to leave Europe, or were in danger in Europe because of a rise of antisemitism, “it has always been bad for Europe. This is important to understand, that there is a link between an open, thriving, liberal democracy and the Jews thriving in it as well.”

The EU coordinator added that it is easier to recognize and acknowledge traditional forms of racism and antisemitism on the right, and more complicated when it comes to the left-wing forms of antisemitism, “or antisemitism that hides behind anti-Zionism.”

“This needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed also with regards to ensuring that Jewish identity can be lived in Europe, and therefore that Jews feel they have a future in Europe,” she said.

Turning to antisemitism online, the EU coordinator said that major social media platforms are removing antisemitic content much more than they have in the past.

According to von Schnurbein, while in 2016, some 28% of content that was flagged as hate speech to the major IT companies – Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube – was taken offline, in 2018 that number rose to nearly 80%.

“When it comes to flagged content, there has definitely been an improvement,” she said.

In 2016 the EU issued a “code of conduct” stipulating that inciting to hate and violence is illegal online, just as it is illegal elsewhere. An agreement was reached with the major social media platforms – later joined by Google+, Instagram, Snapchat and Dailymotion – that when NGOs and others draw their attention to what they consider to be hate speech, these companies will review the content and take it down within 24 hours if it is deemed hate speech.

Von Schnurbein said there are also efforts in the EU to improve data-collection of antisemitic incidents because of the realization that the problem is widely under-reported

For example, she said, “in Germany, and I think in the UK, they have created an app that when you see at your bus stop in the morning a Magen David with a swastika spray painted through it, that you can take a picture of it, upload it and say, ‘this is what I saw this morning.’”

While this type of incident is not something that someone may generally report to the police, having that information, she said, “gives a better picture of what the environment is for Jews in Europe.”

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