European Jewish groups welcomed the announcement of a comprehensive European Union strategy to combat antisemitism both at home and abroad on Tuesday, describing the plan as a positive development following years of rising antisemitic attacks.
In a statement, the European Commission stated that it was “determined to significantly step up the fight against antisemitism.” It said its new strategy was aimed at securing and promoting Jewish life at home, as well as allowing the union to take the lead of “the global fight against antisemitism” abroad, where it will “use all available tools to call on partner countries to actively combat antisemitism.”
“Today’s strategy is the first of its kind to deliver a clear commitment and comprehensive response in our fight against antisemitism,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday, calling hatred of Jews “not only to be a burden of the past” but also “a present dreadful threat.”
Citing research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency showing that 41 percent of young European Jews have considered emigrating because of antisemitism, as well as increases in both physical attacks and online hatred, Schinas said the commission had felt compelled to act.
The new strategy – slated to be implemented between 2021 and 2030 – will focus on preventing and combating antisemitism, protecting and fostering Jewish life and engaging in education, research and Holocaust remembrance, with the highest priority being “the security of our Jewish communities,” he said, calling for EU member states to help assume the cost of protecting Jewish sites.
Beginning in 2022, the commission will provide some 24 million euro to protect public spaces and places of worship, as well as providing support for member states to develop national strategies on combating antisemitism by the end of next year, which will then be assessed by the end of 2023. It will also organize an annual civil society forum on combating antisemitism and support the establishment of an EU research hub on antisemitism and contemporary Jewish life.
Other initiatives will include continent-wide efforts to flag antisemitic content online; ban the online sale of Nazi memorabilia; encourage members to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism; and establish a network of lesser known Holocaust sites.
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The plan also called on member states to “ensure through policy and legal measures that religious groups or communities, including Jews, can live their lives in accordance with their religious and cultural traditions.” This comes only days after a court in Brussels upheld a ruling that effectively banned the production of kosher meat by not giving Jews an exemption from a rule requiring the stunning of animals about to be slaughtered.
In what appeared to be a veiled jab at the Palestinian Authority’s educational institutions, the plan, which promised that the EU would use all available tools to address antisemitism abroad, stated that the bloc will “will step up actions in the education sector and continue to promote full compliance of education material with UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence and non-violence, in its cooperation on education with partner countries … Any material that goes against them risks undermining peace and co-existence and has no place in textbooks or classrooms.”
Asked about how such an approach would impact Brussels’ strategy for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, Schinas told reporters that it “under no circumstances offers a change or disruption” in efforts to “work with everybody in the region to make peace a reality.”
In a statement, the European Jewish Congress called the new strategy “ground-breaking” and said it looked forward to working with officials to ensure its implementation. “This is an unprecedented and vital document that will act as a roadmap to significantly reduce antisemitism in Europe and beyond,” said EJC President Moshe Kantor. “As the head of the political representation of all Europe’s Jewish communities, I am pleased that the EU addressed our concerns and recommendations in this initiative and we stand ready to assist in any way towards the implementation of this important strategy.”
The American Jewish Committee’s Europe-based Transatlantic Institute also welcomed the strategy, noting that it appeared to incorporate a number of recommendations it had released this summer in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith Europe and other groups.
“The EU should be applauded for taking this significant step toward combatting antisemitism in Europe and abroad amid the dramatic surge of Jew hatred within living memory of the Holocaust,” AJC Transatlantic Institute director Daniel Schwammenthal said in a statement. “It is reassuring to see that the strategy aims at tackling antisemitism whether it originates from the far right, the far left, Islamists or mainstream society and clearly identifies ‘Israel-related antisemitism’ as a major problem,” he said.
However, not all European Jews were enthused about the new strategy. Stephan Kramer, a former secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and currently the head of the Verfassungsschutz, or domestic intelligence agency, of the German state of Thuringia, told Haaretz that this was only the latest in a long series of initiatives, all of which have so far failed to curb European antisemitism.
"I have seen many presentations and plans before, either European or country based. The results are rather sobering,” he said. "Antisemitism in all its forms and from various sources is again at a peak these days. I keep my expectations rather low. Seems to me that the presentation and plans are rather a communication/marketing issue. We know for many years what is necessary to be done" to decrease antisemitism, "but it seems nobody wants to do it."
Antisemitism has been a pressing concern for European Jews in recent years, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the May fighting in Gaza. This July, the European Commission released a report finding that “considerable growth in the use of antisemitic keywords during the pandemic,” with a“seven-fold increase in antisemitic posting” on French-language accounts and a thirteen-fold increase on German accounts since the beginning of the worldwide health crisis.
The number of politically motivated crimes rose sharply in Germany last year, including a 15 percent rise in antisemitic offenses, with the number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across the country rising from 2,032 to 2,351. Violent incidents increased across the continent this May, as Israel and Hamas faced off in another round of fighting. Germany’s Jewish community called upon the German government to step up protection of Jewish sites after Israeli flags were burned in front of two synagogues, while Austrian police were criticized for telling the victim of an antisemitic attack that she had provoked the incident by reading a book about Jews on the subway. In the United Kingdom, which is no longer a member of the EU, Jews experienced an “unprecedented number of antisemitic incidents,” according to the Community Security Trust, a local watchdog.
Meanwhile, a recent poll carried out by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, or Mazsihisz, found that 20 percent of Hungarians can be described as strongly antisemitic while 16 percent are moderately antisemitic. Fellow EU member Poland was also recently accused of state antisemitism after it adopted a controversial measure curtailing property restitution claims, which has been criticized as targeting Holocaust survivors making restitution claims.
And on Sunday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog strongly condemned Holocaust denial across Europe, stating that “in many places in Europe, we are witnessing a dangerous trend of historical revisionism” in which “some people feel tempted to glorify World War II war criminals or rehabilitate wartime collaborators.”
JTA contributed to this report.