‘Criticism of Israel not an excuse for antisemitism’ says Theresa May

“We must root out the scourge of antisemitism here in our own country… You cannot claim to be tackling racism, if you are not tackling antisemitism,” said the prime minister.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street, in central London, Britain April 18, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street, in central London, Britain April 18, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Antisemitism pervades the European Union, antisemitic incidents are on the rise, and Jews fear antisemitic hate speech, harassment and even being recognized as Jewish, a new EU report published on Monday concluded.
The study, conducted across 12 of the EU’s 28 member states and surveying almost 16,500 individuals, found that high numbers of Jews have been subjected to antisemitic harassment and rhetoric. This demonstrated that many feel unsafe going to synagogues and other Jewish sites, and that large numbers worry about being physically attacked because of their religion.
The report drew serious concerns from major Jewish organizations, and called for more to be done by European nations to stem antisemitism and create a safe environment for Jewish communities.
Among the most serious findings of the study, more than one quarter (28%) of respondents experienced a form of antisemitic harassment at least once in the past year, and over one third (39%) did so in the five years prior to the survey.
Another 3% of respondents said they had personally experienced a physical attack because they are Jewish in the past five years before the survey, and 2% said they had experienced a physical antisemitic attack over the last year.
In addition, 76% of respondents had heard or read a comment that Jews have too much power in their country; 59% read comments that called the interests of Jews in their country “different” than those of the rest of the population; and 72% mentioned that Jews bring antisemitism upon themselves.
Of the respondents who said they had experienced antisemitic verbal or physical attacks, some 30% of them identified the attackers as “Muslims with extremist views,” the highest category of identifiable perpetrators.
Another 21% of respondents said people with left wing political views committed the offense, and 13% said their incident came from someone with right wing political views.
Jews in Europe feel that antisemitism is gradually getting worse and feel threatened.
Some 89% of respondents believe that antisemitism has increased over the past five years in the country they live in, while 88% said that antisemitism online has increased over the past five years, with 89% saying it was a problem in their country.
There is considerable concern among European Jews that they will be victims of antisemitic attacks. Some 47% of respondents said they worry about becoming a victim of an antisemitic verbal insult or harassment, while 40% worry about being physically attacked.
One third said that they occasionally avoid attending Jewish events or visiting Jewish sites in general, and more than a third or respondents, 38%, said they avoid certain places in their local area or neighborhood at least occasionally because they do not feel safe there.
Forty-nine percent of those surveyed say they sometimes wear items that could identify them as Jewish, such as a kippah or Star of David, or display a mezuzah, with 71% of them saying that they avoid doing at least occasionally.
And more than one third of all respondents, 38%, have considered emigrating in the past five years because they do not feel safe in the country where they live.
“Decades after the Holocaust, shocking and mounting levels of antisemitism continue to plague the EU,” said the director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, who commissioned the study, Michael O’Flaherty.
“Member States must take note and step up their efforts to prevent and combat antisemitism. Jewish people have a right to live freely, without hate and without fear for their safety.”
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) expressed considerable concern over the findings, and insisted that the report be seen as a warning to European countries, calling on leaders to take action.
“This report demonstrates an increasingly intolerable level of pressure and abuse that Jews feel in Europe today,” said Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC.
“They feel that despite European leaders’ commitment to combating antisemitism the situation has not improved, in fact it has deteriorated over the last few years. This report should be seen by leaders in Europe as a final warning that words are not enough, and now is a time for action.”
World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder said the results were “shocking” but “unsurprising,” and that education about antisemitism and not just increasing security were needed to combat the hatred toward Jews.
“Unfortunately, this report only confirms what every Jew across Europe knows – that antisemitism is on the rise and that their political leaders are not doing enough to stop this hatred,” he said.
“I hope political leaders across Europe are woken up by this report and that they heed my call to educate every student about the Holocaust, as education is the only way to stop the hate.”
Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, said that the survey “presents a worrying picture” and “reveals how much Jews feel – and are – unsafe in the EU,” and called for increased action in fighting the “epidemic” of antisemitism.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May strongly condemned rising antisemitism in Europe, in a speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel lobbying group on Monday, saying that it was a critical component of fighting all racial hatred.
Public debate over antisemitism in the UK has intensified in recent months following a bitter dispute between the Jewish community and the Labour Party, which has been beset by antisemitism over the past few years, despite adopting a truncated form of the definition of antisemitism in the summer.
After several months of growing anger from the Jewish community, the Labour Party backtracked and adopted the full definition, with a caveat, but the party’s new far Left membership and its vociferous criticism of Israel has left much of British Jewry highly skeptical.
May declared on Monday that “Criticizing the government of Israel is never – and can never, ever be – an excuse for hatred against the Jewish people."
She also insisted that antisemitism in the UK must be tackled head on, and was part of the wider struggle against racial hatred.
“We must root out the scourge of antisemitism here in our own country. You cannot claim to be tackling racism, if you are not tackling antisemitism,” said the prime minister.
In defense against allegations of antisemitism against him and the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn pointed to his history of fighting racism in the UK.
May added during her speech that it was a great pleasure to celebrate the “friendship between two great democracies – the UK and Israel.”
Ahead of Christmas, she also pointed out that while Christian communities in the Middle East have been decimated by persecution and violent attacks in the wars that have beset Iraq and Syria, the Christian community in Israel “continues to thrive and grow.”