World Jewish News
EU coordinator for combating anti-Semitism: ’We know that anti-Semitism is on the rise
13.11.2017, Israel and the World
Last June, the European Parliament voted a resolution on combating anti-Semitism in the context of a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in recent years in Europe.
The resolution calls on the EU member states and the Union institutions and agencies ‘’to adopt and apply the working definition of anti-Semitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in order to support the judicial and law enforcement authorities in their efforts to identify and prosecute anti-Semitic attacks more efficiently and effectively.
Until now five EU member states have adopted the definition: the UK, Germany, Austria, Romania and Bulgaria.
The non-legally binding working definition states that ‘’Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’’
‘’I think that it is already a good step forward that since last December five countries have adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism,’’ says Katharina von Schnurbein who is the EU coordinator for combating anti-Semitism since 2015, in an interview with European Jewish Press (EJP).
In a public speech last week, European Commissioner Vera Jourova, responsible for Justice, made it clear that she is willing to push member states to do more and assure that the definition gets used in education training for law enforcement authorities, for the media…
‘’The definition gives a range of anti-Semitic prejudices that someone can express,’’ explains Katharina von Schnurbein. ‘’For example to say that Jews have no right to self-determination and someone else can say: I think this is anti-Semitic according to he definition. But both have the rights to have their opinion, which is the essence of freedom of speech.’’ ‘’People don’t even know what is anti-Semitic. The definition raises awareness about different forms of anti-Semitism today.’’
The European Commission has internally endorsed the definition and training are organized with civil servants from the various EU institutions on Holocaust education for example.
‘’Also with teachers, education has become a very important issue. We talked to the education ministries of the EU memer states to discuss their Holocaust curriculum and curriculum on anti-Semitism,’’ explains von Schnurbein, a German national who prior to her nomination has coordinated the European Commission’s dialogue with churches, religions and non-confessional organisations.
As Coordinator in the fight against anti-Semitism, she has to address all the various forms of this phenomenon: right-wing extremism, left-wing anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism within the Muslim community but also increasingly from the centre of the society. She also deals with the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Desinvestment and Sanctions) actions on university campuses and their consequences on Jewish students.
Another problem Katharina von Schnurbein is confronted is the problem of data collection on anti-Semitism. ‘’ According to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), 11 out of the 28 member states have not provided any information on anti-Semitic incidents. ‘’Reporting is very important. I know that it is very difficult for the victims but it is crucial that they inform special instances of the Jewish community or report straight to the police, to make sure that we have a global view of the situation.’’
Among the positive things, she mentioned progress in the fight of illegal hate speech on internet through take-downs following the signing of a code of conduct agreement between the European Commission and major internet and social networks companies.
Katharina von Schnurbein also stresses the importance of raising the awareness about anti-Semitism among the general population. ‘’In Germany, for example, 78% of the general population thinks that anti-Semitism is not a problem…while 77% of German Jews, almost the same percentage, think that anti-Semitism is a worrying phenomenon on the rise.’’ ‘’We need to bridge this discrepancy and raise the awareness through training and education.’’
What is the global situation of anti-Semitism today ?
‘’We know that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Figures in every country don’t necessarily show that it went up but there is a large under-reporting and especially what I have noticed from travelling and talking to the Jewish communities across Europe, is the amount of fear. People are afraid even to go out on the street, of course it differs among member states. In some member states you will still have some Jewish infrastructures that do not need security. But if you look for example here in Brussels, you know that something is Jewish because there is a military in front and there is no sign on the house. Also particularly worrying is the fact that Jews are thinking about leaving Europe… It is very shocking.’’
The EU will conduct in May next year a large survey of the perceptions of the Jewish community about anti-Semitism and about their general situation. It will be done by the Fundamental Rights Agency which made a similar survey in 2015. ‘’We will reach out to all the Jewish communities across the member states to make sure that we have a good sample and that we take the correct measure of how the situation is,’’ says von Schnurbein.
Are Jews safer today than two years ago ?
‘’I think that there has been an increase in security measures. We see for example that in France anti-Semitic incidents in 2016 have gone down significantly because of increased security in front of Jewish infrastructures. There is a perception, at least in some communities, that the general population is more aware of the situation of the Jewish community.’’ ‘’This is certainly a positive aspect but of course it comes at a very price because the terror attacks have become an issue not only for the Jewish community but for the society at large.’’
For Katharina von Schnurbein, however, the ultimate goal must be ‘’normality’’ for the Jewish communities. ‘’While we have security measures, in the end we must come to a situation where Jews, either observant or secular, can live the lives they want to live, including when they send their kids to schools, whether Jewish schools or public schools. When they are in Jewish schools they don’t have to go through security measures and when they are in public schools they shouldn’t be harassed for being Jewish. It is our benchmark and our compass…’’
‘’When I go to a church there is no security. No need. It shouldn’t be needed in front of a synagogue but of course for the moment it is needed. I think it is sad. It is good that governments have stepped up security, it is absolutely necessary, but if we want to fight anti-Semitism, I think we should have high goals..’’