BRUSSELS – “A general boycott against Israel as a whole to isolate Israel as such and to combine it with antisemitic feelings should not be allowed... that is not protected by freedom of speech,” Elmar Brok, the EU Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, told an anti-BDS conference at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday.
Brok, who has chaired the committee for the last 5 years as well as from 1997-2007, said his broader opposition is to all “hate speech... the last American election campaign also had to do with that.” He added that with “social media today, you can say everything and no one holds you accountable.”
While saying he still defends free speech and does not support Israel’s current settlement policy, he said he is opposed to speech whose sole purpose is “to destroy the personalities of human beings, especially... minorities in a society... [and] to organize something against them such that they cannot live safely anymore.
“It is different... to criticize certain decisions of a government... versus discriminating against Jews as a whole,” said Brok.
Attendees were welcomed by European Parliament vice president Ioan Mircea Pascu.
European Jewish Association director Rabbi Menachem Margolin told the annual EJA conference, which also took place in Brussels on Monday, that no one would have guessed right-wing parties in Europe would be making a comeback or “would think they would be in power,” adding that “we must be concerned where this is going long-term.”
“Sometimes communities feel that security provided by the government is not enough – with European governments, for different reasons, not providing what is needed” to defend their country’s Jewish communities, he added.
US State Department official Holly Huffnagle explained to the EJA conference that her office for monitoring and combating antisemitism was established to fight an increase in antisemitism around the time of the 2001 Durban Conference, and acknowledged that “there is a new antisemitism because of fights relating to Israel.”
She said there is a problem in terms of antisemitic groups trying to frame their antisemitism as protected and legitimate free speech by selling it as criticism of Israeli policy.
One major issue Huffnagle addressed was the 2010 standard for defining antisemitism that the US has promoted for use by judges, prosecutors and police across Europe in order to help these groups distinguish between legitimate criticism of a nation’s policy, including Israel, versus antisemitism.
It is important to define “when criticism of Israel becomes antisemitic,” she said. “We still need to protect free speech and should not overstate or understate the problem... as unfounded accusations of antisemitism are counterproductive for attempts to fight antisemitism.”
She qualified her remarks, cautioning that there were limits as to what issues she could speak to in light of the ongoing policy transitions from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.
Israeli Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel gave a speech at both the EJA and European Parliament conferences. At the EJA conference, she said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Just seven decades after the Holocaust, who could imagine that the ugly face of antisemitism is raising its head with no shame in various communities in Europe...
Didn’t we all pledge ‘Never again’?” Gamliel promised that Israel is “no longer just going to respond but will initiate a plan of action to deal with antisemitism worldwide,” adding that “our united message is that you are not alone – that is the difference between now and 75 years ago.”
Honing in on BDS more specifically at her EU Parliament speech, Gamliel said, “The aim of this movement is not the two-state solution [but] to wipe Israel off the map, [as] the BDS movement seeks to destroy Israel’s image in the eyes of the world.
“This discrimination campaign may have a new name, but it is the same” threat as in the past, she said, adding that holding Israel to “different standards that any other nation in the world is antisemitic.”
Consistoire Central Israelit of Belgium chairman Philippe Mariewicz told the EJA conference addressed the attendees, saying, “Terrorism is a problem for everyone, and is not just a Jewish problem... Europe was not used to terrorism, but Israel can help Europe a lot to fight against terrorism, because Israel has... experience on the subject, and it is very important that Israel [help Europe].”
He added that the fight against terrorism could last 10 to 15 years.
Katharina Von Schnurbein, the European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism, emphasized to the EJA conference the importance of protecting “Jewish communities in Europe with free speech.”
“No conflict anywhere in the world justifies violence here,” she added, saying that throwing “Molotov cocktails into a synagogue is always antisemitism,” referring to and disagreeing with a recent ruling by a European court on the issue.
Shurat Hadin founder Nitsana Darshan-Leitner told “war stories” about halting the financial support of Iranian terrorism from countries in Europe with anti-terror lawsuits, as an example of using the law against forces mobilized against Israel and Jews.
MKs Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) and Yoav Kisch (Likud) also spoke at both conferences and Shuli Davidovich, deputy head of Israel’s mission to the EU, spoke at the European Parliament conference.
Margolin concluded the EJA conference by stating that he and the central leadership would stay in touch with the Jewish community representatives in attendance “for long-term to minor security... [in order] to avoid antisemitism in Europe."