UK Jews applaud EU anti-racism drive

European Jewish Congress unhappy that EU did not mention anti-Semitism.

eu parliament 88.298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
eu parliament 88.298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
British Jewish community organizations have welcomed a European Union decision to strengthen and coordinate laws protecting minorities. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust have expressed support for the European Council's signing of the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia in Luxembourg last week. The document seeks to ensure certain manifestations of racism and xenophobia are liable to criminal sanctions. Currently, 14 out of 27 EU member states criminalize public denial of the Holocaust, although fewer criminalize incitement to religious or racial hated, despite intergovernmental agreements to do so. The new decision therefore marks an important move forward for some countries. European Jewish communities have closely followed the six-year debate on the proposal, intervening on a number of occasions to express views to national and EU ministers. The decision will mean little change for the UK, as it follows closely the British approach, which is to criminalize incitement to racial and religious hatred. It does, however, add criminal sanctions against denial or trivialization of the Holocaust, which the British government and the Board of Deputies have argued is unnecessary in the UK legal context. The Board and the Community Security Trust said they were disappointed that the decision fails to mention the growth of anti-Semitism. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: "Holocaust denial is a virulent and sickening form of anti-Semitism and we applaud any government that attempts to protect the memory of this dark episode in our history and fight anti-Semitism in all its forms. "However, while legislation against Holocaust denial is fitting and effective in Germany and Austria, we do not believe it is needed in the UK. Existing legislation in this country outlawing 'incitement to racial hatred' is enough to cover most situations in which Holocaust denial rhetoric is articulated and there is a danger that further legislation could bring people on the fringes of society onto the center stage. "We therefore welcome this EU initiative, which is not mandatory, but will enable each member state to appropriately apply the directive. It is important to note that the law is one way of dealing with Holocaust deniers and incitement to racial hatred, but that education plays an equally vital role in combating ignorance and reinforcing the lessons of the Holocaust today." The European Jewish Congress also welcomed the Framework Decision but said it was "concerned and disappointed" that the text made no explicit reference to anti-Semitism. The representative body of European Jewish communities applauded the German presidency of the European Union for bringing new life to the Framework but said it had hoped a Europe-wide ban on Nazi symbols and Holocaust denial would be added. The new version of includes neither. "Anti-Semitism is the oldest form of racism in Europe, and is nowhere near from disappearing. The German presidency's initiative is a bold and highly symbolic move, yet should have gone further by directly mentioning the need to legislate against those who incite anti-Semitism, and not just racism and xenophobia. Europe has a special historic responsibility to combat anti-Semitism, and it is a shame that the final version of the Framework Decision did not include this," an European Jewish Congress representative said.