Antisemitism is an attack on freedom

World leaders have come together at Yad Vashem and Auschwitz in commemoration of humanity’s darkest chapter. They have pledged “never again” to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Antisemitism 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Antisemitism 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
World leaders have come together at Yad Vashem and Auschwitz in commemoration of humanity’s darkest chapter. They have pledged “never again” to the atrocities of the Holocaust. But now the motorcades have departed, will there be action to stem the growing tide of antisemitism? Because so far, the strong words of “never again” have been met with meek actions and indifference across the whole of society. At a time when Jews are leaving European countries due to the threat, the alarm bells should be ringing loudly in presidential palaces and our own living rooms.
Antisemitism is of course an attack on Jews, but it is also an attack on freedom. It is a symptom of a much wider cancer in our societies where tolerance and pluralism are crumbling. The Internet removes filters to spreading hatred and lies. We see that the drivers of antisemitism come from different quarters, and all sides of the political spectrum – whether the racism of the far Right, or the spillover of anti-Zionism of the far Left, which too often holds all Jews to account for the actions of the Israeli government. Ignorance has set in, and dark forces are turning it into hatred.
To illustrate the scale of the problem, an EU survey at the end of 2018 showed that 89% of Jews feel antisemitism has increased in their country. Some 85% see it as a major problem, especially on the Internet and social media.
Germany itself has a problem (antisemitic hate crimes rose 20%t last year) but so does much of Europe. We’ve seen spikes in violence in France, concerns about endemic antisemitism in Britain’s opposition party, and even in my own Denmark there are rising concerns, not least after a guard was killed at a Copenhagen synagogue in 2015.
Across Europe, the burden of fighting antisemitism falls too heavily on Jews and Jewish groups themselves. But it is a fight that we all must take up with a major Europe-wide joint initiative.
The question is one of whether we want to live under the rule of law where all are free and protected, or rule by the mob where people are unrestricted in spreading lies, stirring hate, and finding scapegoats for people’s concerns. In the latter scenario, nobody will be free.
So what should we do?
FIRST, WE need a clear definition of antisemitism across Europe. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition should become standard across Europe so that enforcement against acts of antisemitism can be carried out.
Second, we must educate ourselves. We are reaching a time when the direct memory of the Holocaust is dying out. Younger people see this dark page as a distant memory, while older people think they have played their part already. But those who fail to truly understand history are destined to repeat it. Today we are even seeing an effort by some – including governments – to rewrite the history of World War II. This historical revisionism can also be a path to antisemitism.
Third, we must mobilize the silent majority. The overwhelming majority of people strongly oppose antisemitism. We need to mobilize them in order to drown out the noisy minority, and call for social responsibility. We want to mobilize powerful people too – not just the usual political suspects, but celebrities, sportsmen and women, community and faith leaders. They need to point out where even seemingly harmless acts of antisemitism can lead.
We should also step up work with all religious communities, but especially Muslim communities. They are also victims of misunderstanding and intolerance. In particular we must find better ways to engage Muslim migrant communities, including first-generation migrants who may have brought with them a warped perspective of Jewish culture. In Europe, many still watch their home TV channels, continually reinforcing the stereotypes and misinformation. We should find ways to reach them through Muslim community leaders and media channels that deliver the truth.
If we are to truly tackle antisemitism, we should not be afraid to discuss openly and respectfully the drivers of it. In my view, too much political correctness has prevented us from having some of these difficult conversations in the realm of mainstream, civilized debate. We need to wrestle these issues back to the center-ground of debate.
Throughout my life I’ve been driven by the cause of freedom. This includes the freedom to openly be who you are and worship as you wish. If we lose that tolerance that has developed in our society, we will see the supplanting of our democratic, free civilization with rule by ignorance and mob mentality.
It’s true that governments must do much more to fight antisemitism, but 75 years ago it was also ordinary people – both free and subjugated – who rose up to defend their freedom. Today we must all answer the call and stand up to this new existential challenge.
The writer is chairman of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation. He was Danish prime minister from 2001-2009 and NATO secretary-general from 2009-2014. In 2005 he apologized on behalf of Denmark for the extradition of innocent people to Nazi Germany.