Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Combatting anti-Semitism in Europe

Last week, Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry released a report titled "Anti-Semitism in 2013: Trends and Events."
Yet, there was barely a scarce mention about it in the media and Jewish community, perhaps because this was the umpteenth report released in recent times about the state of anti-Semitism around the world, and in particular in Europe.
In essence, the report underscores what we have known for some time now: that anti-Semitism in Europe has reached alarming levels, in many parts, such as Hungary and France especially, even unprecedented since the end of the Holocaust, a point also stressed this week by Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman.
Many Jews across Europe are increasingly being forced to change their way of life, hide their identities and even step away from their Judaism out of fear of anti-Semitism.
One of the most disconcerting parts of the report was a suggestion that "most of Europe's Jews have come to terms with anti-Semitism as a chronic disease that has no hope of treatment or eradication," citing that 77 percent of European Jews do not even bother reporting anti-Semitic incidents to any organization, Jewish or otherwise, "due to their belief that the complaints will not be dealt with and that the attackers will not be identified."

Tragically, merely 69 years after the end of the Holocaust, virtually no part of Europe is free of the evil of anti-Semitism and hatred that led to its darkest period in history.
The difference, however, is that today's anti-Semitism is being directed not only against Jews as individuals, but also in the vilification and assault on Israel's legitimacy, as the Jew among the nations, with false claims and malicious distortions of truth cloaked as acceptable criticism of Zionism and Israel. This is being waged by a dangerous union of radical Islam, the far Left and the neo-Nazi far Right.
Today, we don't need any more reports to tell us, and the Jews of Europe, that anti-Semitism is a problem; what is needed are concrete steps to combat it.
As such, the following six action items are proposed for consideration as a blueprint for combating anti-Semitism in Europe:
1. As European Council President Herman Van Rompuy recently said, anti-Semitism is "a crime against Europe and its culture, against man and its humanity. To be anti-Semitic is to reject Europe." Therefore, anti-Semitism must not be seen solely a "Jewish problem," but a human problem, and in particular, one going against the very culture and ethos of Europe.
2. Europe must have a comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism. In this regard, it was most unfortunate to see last year the decision of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the central European body charged with combating anti-Semitism, to remove its working definition of anti-Semitism, and inexplicably, only weeks after releasing a major report about the record level of anti-Semitism in Europe.
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 European Union should establish a full-time EU special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to be modeled on a similar position in the United States, currently held by Ira Forman.
4. European governments must also be pressed separately to monitor anti-Semitism. Despite being required to do so under accords reached between the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, many have failed to do so.
In fact, in the most recent report of the OSCE, which is tasked with, among other matters, requiring its member states to collect information and monitor anti-Semitic incidents in their home states, only 27 of the 57 OSCE member states submitted official statistics. Among the countries that did not submit the required data: France, Hungary, Greece, Russia and Belgium -- some of the worst offenders with regard to anti-Semitism in Europe today.
5. All EU states 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. This anomaly in unacceptable.
Legislation must be enacted and enforced across each country in the EU, outlawing racist hate speech, use of Nazi symbols, and specifically, the denial of the Holocaust.
6. Education, education, education. People are not born to hate; they learn it. All EU member states should make study of the Holocaust and its implications mandatory in all high schools.
It is high time we stopped just talking about anti-Semitism and started taking concrete steps to fight this oldest form of hatred.
Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist, and has written extensively on anti-Semitism in Europe.

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