A blueprint to combat anti-Semitism in Europe

Today it is time for action.

Police officers in France (photo credit: REUTERS)
Police officers in France
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On January 27, the world will come together to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Yet 70 years since end of the most horrific chapter in Europe’s history, anti-Semitism has once again surged to levels unprecedented since the end of the Holocaust, with virtually no part of Europe free from this oldest and most enduring form of hatred.
Whether it is the kosher supermarket attack in Paris this January, the shooting in the Brussels Jewish Museum last year, or frequent assaults against Jews and vandalism of synagogues and Jewish stores, there is an increasingly palpable sense of fear and insecurity among many Jewish communities in Europe.
A November 2013 report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that almost a quarter of European Jews hide their identity out of fear of anti-Semitism, while a May 2014 report by Anti-Defamation League estimated that a staggering 26 percent of the world – 1.09 billion people – harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, with Western Europe at 24% and Eastern Europe at 34%. In 2015, it is widely expected that these figures will be even higher.
In France, for example, where the Jewish community accounts for less than 1% of the population, in 2013 they were the victims of 40% of reported attacks based on race, religion or ethnicity. This figure is expected to have increased to 50% in the past 12 months.
During the violent Europe-wide protests against Israel in the wake of its defensive war against Hamas last summer, it was not uncommon to hear chants of “death to Jews,” “Hitler was right” and “Jews get out.” Many Jews are now increasingly beginning to question if they even have a future in Europe.
Today, the time has long passed to stop just talking about anti-Semitism. Mere words are not enough, and great expressions of sympathy just not sufficient.
Today it is time for action.
To this end, following extensive consultations with Jewish communities in Europe, who are at the front line of global anti-Semitism today, The Israeli- Jewish Congress (IJC) proposes the following 10-point blueprint for combating anti-Semitism Europe. An earlier version of this Blueprint was first presented at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Global Forum on Combatting Anti-Semitism in May 2013 and has been updated since following further meetings with Jewish leaders and officials from Europe and Israel, also taking into account various international developments since that period.
1. First, it must be stressed that anti-Semitism is not just a “Jewish problem,” but a human problem. As the former UK chief rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks once said: “A civilization or country that has no room for Jews has no room for humanity.” Anti-Semites might start with the Jews, but their hate extends to other minority groups as well.
2. Europe must have a comprehensive and binding definition of anti-Semitism.
In this regard, it was most unfortunate that in November 2013, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the central European body charged with combating anti-Semitism, removed its own working definition of anti-Semitism.
Importantly, the FRA definition also included calls for the delegitimization of Israel as a form of anti-Semitism. This full definition of anti-Semitism should immediately be reinstated as law in Europe. Without defining what it is we are trying to combat, how can we ever defeat it?
3. The EU should establish a full-time commissioner or special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to be modeled on a similar position in the United States, currently held by Ira Forman.
This idea was first proposed in July 2014 by Eli Ringer and Baron Julien Klener, leaders of the Belgian Jewish community, in the wake of the Brussels Jewish Museum attack.
In addition, the European Parliament should immediately establish a parliamentary task-force on anti-Semitism that will be charged with presenting concrete policy proposals and laws to fight anti-Semitism.
4. Every Jewish community in the EU ought to have a formal mechanism by which to systematically monitor and record incidents of anti-Semitism in their home countries. These reports should then be presented to government and police authorities to take action against the perpetrators.
Concurrently, European governments must also be pressed separately to monitor anti-Semitism. Despite being required to do so under accords reached between the EU and OSCE, many countries fail to do so.
Without reliable data, it is difficult to properly assess the full extent, source and characteristics of anti-Semitic attacks or propose appropriate remedies.
5. All EU states plus other countries in Europe must outlaw Holocaust denial.
Under current EU law, Holocaust denial is punishable by a jail sentence of up to three years, but EU countries that do not have such a prohibition in their own domestic legislation are not bound to enforce the EU law.
At present, only 13 of the 28 EU member states have laws specifically criminalizing Holocaust denial. Many other Non-EU countries in Europe also do not have such laws.
6. Legislation must also be enacted, and enforced, across the EU, outlawing racist hate speech, which is used to incite violence. This should apply both to mainstream and on-line media.
7. Jewish and pro-Israel groups should unite and consolidate not only among ourselves in this important struggle, but also form alliances with other groups, including civil society organizations and moderate Muslim representatives to help fight anti-Semitism.
8. On September 18, 2014, the US House of Representatives passed a ground-breaking bill (H. Res 707) unequivocally condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and vilification of Israel, calling on the secretary of state to “maintain combating anti-Semitism a United States foreign policy priority.”
Such a resolution should be adopted in all European Parliaments to convey a strong message of a political leadership united and determined to fight this hatred.
In the meantime, US, as a global champion of freedom and human rights, can also take a leading role in helping combat anti-Semitism in Europe, including requiring in its bilateral relations that its Europe allies demonstrate a clear commitment to tackling anti-Semitism.
9. With Israel relentlessly vilified and demonized across Europe, we must make it unequivocally clear that anti-Zionism and rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is also a form of anti-Semitism.
As French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in the wake of the violent attacks against French synagogues and Jewish-owned business during last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas: “There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Behind anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”
10. And lastly: education, education, education. People are not born to hate; they learn it. All EU member states should make study of racism, the Holocaust and its implications mandatory for high school students.
The author is the director of research at The Israeli-Jewish Congress, an independent Israel-based non-profit organization devoted to promoting the principle of Israel as the state of the Jewish People and strengthening ties between Israel and the Diaspora, particularly with the Jewish communities of Europe and North America.