Thursday

18th Jan 2018

Opinion

Anti-semitism: An attack on all of us

  • Many Jewish schools and synagogues in Europe need police protection (Photo: Eric Parker)

Later this week, 800 delegates from over 51 countries will travel to Israel to discuss the prolonged eclipse that has clouded the streets of Europe.

The 5th Global Forum for Combating Anti-semitism will convene in Jerusalem between 12 and 14 May and focus on the renewed threat to Jewish communities and individuals around the globe, a threat we had all hoped belonged to the past.

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In the same week that Europe celebrates the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the global forum will try to understand how the seven-decades-old vow of "Never Again" has been forgotten by so many. How is it that Jews and European leaders, 70 years after the "Shoha", are asking themselves if there's place for Jews in Europe?

In recent years, there has been a measurable rise in anti-semitic violence directed toward Jewish individuals, communities, institutions, schools and synagogues in Europe and elsewhere.

Jews have been subjected to ugly hate speech and physical attacks while their synagogues and cemeteries have been desecrated.

The summer of 2014 saw an eruption of protests permeated with anti-semitism in major European capitals in magnitudes not seen in decades. Today, in many communities, Jews can no longer publicly identify themselves without legitimately fearing for their safety, while in parts of Europe, Jewish religious practices are under legislative attack.

In many corners of Europe Jews visit synagogues under heavy police protection, and so do students at Jewish schools.

Surveys conducted during 2013 and 2014 by respected international NGOs and intergovernmental bodies, including the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and America’s Anti-Defamation League, confirm that about 25 percent of European Jews hide their identity.

There was a 400-percent rise in anti-semitic incidents in Europe during 2014 compared to the previous year. Jewish communities in many parts of Europe are being menaced, including with threats to their basic rights.

Unfortunately, "new trends" in anti-semitism identify and attack Jews as part of their attack on the West and its values, as clearly demonstrated by the terror attacks in Brussels, Paris, and Copenhagen.

Return of jihadi terrorists, with EU citizenship, only magnifies this phenomenon.

On the positive side, 2014 saw many world leaders step up to denounce these developments, including strong condemnations of anti-semitism issued by heads of state and the foreign ministers of Italy, France, and Germany.

International organisations also acted, including the OSCE, which last November reaffirmed its 2004 Berlin Declaration on Anti-semitism. In August, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that he deplores the recent upsurge in anti-semitic attacks, particularly in Europe.

These positive developments continued in 2015: on 22 January, the General Assembly of the United Nations held a special session on the subject, calling on all its members to take action to stop the spread of anti-semitism.

Unfortunately, this is not enough. Now more than ever, Europe should not settle for the physical protection of Jews and their institutions.

European leaders should speak out loud against anti-semitism including anti-semetic political parties which have no place in Europe, promote a discourse where anti-semetic views and remarks are not acceptable and condemned by all segments of society, legislate on fighting anti-semitism, educate and distinguish between legitimate political criticism and prejudice .

This year’s global forum will focus on two main themes.

The first is the spread of the “oldest hatred” through the newest mediums, as anti-semitic material is freely disseminated on the internet and via social media. The question arises of how we can increase the moral integrity of the internet without limiting its essential freedom.

The second focus will be on the recent revival of anti-semitism in Europe and the search for effective responses. Many issues are to be examined, among them the question of why this is happening in Europe now? What steps can be taken? Is there a structural threat to Jewish life?

Anti-semitism is not just a problem for Jews.

Wherever it’s allowed to raise its ugly head, the infringement of the basic rights of other minorities is sure to follow, be it the rights of cartoonists to free expression or the rights of women, Roma, Sinti, ethnic minorities and of the LGBT community.

In the end, even the right of majority populations to live free of the fear of intolerance towards anyone with a different opinion, appearance or belief will be in doubt.

David Walzer is Israel's ambassador to the EU

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