German flag flutters half-mast on top of the Reichstag building, the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, March 25.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After years of lobbying for the creation of such a position, Jewish groups on Wednesday lauded the European Commission’s appointment of Katharina von Schnurbein as the body’s first coordinator on combating anti-Semitism.
Alongside von Schnurbein, a German national who had previously coordinated relations with religious organizations, the commission also appointed an official to combat anti-Muslim hatred.
The creation of the two positions had been announced by EC First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in October, following more than a year of appeals by Jewish communities feeling squeezed by rising anti-Semitism and terrorist threats.
Both the European Jewish Congress and the Belgian Jewish community, whose chief Rabbi Avraham Gigi recently announced that he sees no future for Jews on the continent, were at the forefront of pushing for the creation of a position analogous to that of the American State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
The Conference of European Rabbis has been working with von Schnurbein for years, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the group’s president, told The Jerusalem Post, calling her “competent, efficient, and courageous.”
“We welcome the creation of these positions and welcome the appointment of Mrs. Von Schnurbein to this post, which is very important for Europe in today’s context,” said Joel Rubinfeld, the founder of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism. “It’s good news that finally Europe appointed a coordinator exclusively dedicated to fight the plague of anti-Semitism. For having collaborated with Katharina von Schnurbein on some projects those last years, I can tell that she is following very closely all that is related to Jewish life in Europe.
“It will now be up to her to embody this new position, make it an efficient instrument in the fight against the rising anti-Semitism in our countries, and restore confidence of one in three European Jews who, according to the 2013 FRA report on anti-Semitism, is considering leaving his country because he no longer feels safe living there as a Jew. The challenge is huge but also vital as, in my view, the fate of European Jewry is the litmus test for the European democracies.”
Others, however, we more cautiously optimistic.
While the move to appoint von Schnurbein is certainly welcome, it remains to be seen how successful the creation of a new position actually is, said Michael Whine, the UK’s independent member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and an official at the Community Security Trust, a Jewish anti-Semitism watchdog group in the UK.
A longtime critic of European efforts to combat anti-Semitism, Whine said that he believes that the EC’s “work will only be successful if they move beyond good intentions and rhetoric and confront the real threats,political and security, that confront our communities.”
Despite this, another Jewish leader, who asked to remain anonymous, said that, other considerations aside, the fact that the fight against anti-Semitism is being institutionalized is important in an of itself.
“The EC bureaucracy has a life of its own and to have an institutional mechanism, which will define what is considered antisemitism and what not, especially today when EU relations worsen, is very important,” he said.
According to the EC, the first task of the two coordinators will be to bring communal concerns directly to the body’s leadership, serving as direct interlocutors for European Jews and Muslims as well as “contributing to the development of the European Commission’s overarching strategy to combat hate crime, hate speech, intolerance and discrimination.”
“They will contribute to other relevant policy areas such as education, as well as those geared at combating radicalization and violent extremism.
They will liaise with the member states, the European Parliament, other institutions, relevant civil society organizations and academia with a view to strengthening policy responses designed to address anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred,” the EC said in a statement.