EU states lead UN campaign against anti-Semitism

A handout photo made available by the United Nations (UN) shows Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades speaking on screen during the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations, in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2020. [Handout photo/EPA/EFE]

Twelve EU governments were among the leading signatories on Tuesday (17 November) to a new campaign aimed at combatting rising anti-Semitism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Austria,  Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia were among those that submitted pledges encouraging the United Nations to better address the fight against anti-Semitism at a side event to the UN General Assembly hosted by the World Jewish Congress and the German government.

“We see it accompanied by the erosion of democratic values, the rise of conspiracy myths and widespread economic hardship. In short, we see the rise of conditions that are ripe for anti-semitism to thrive. We are now at a critical juncture,” said Ambassador Michaela Küchler, the president of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Miguel Moratinos, high representative for the UN Alliance of Civilisations, said that “this hate speech phenomenon has existed and persisted even before the pandemic at an alarming rate”.

“Neo-nazis and white supremacists are responding, their outreach is spreading their twisted and poisoned ideologies online and offline through mainstream media platforms,” he warned.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a global fight on two fronts against “the poison” of anti-Semitism and hatred of Muslims, migrants, refugees and many others.

“With COVID-19, another virus has spread — anti-Semitism and hatred of many kinds,” he said.

The pandemic has sparked an 18% rise in anti-Semitic hate speech, particularly online, according to research by Tel Aviv University.

In Brussels on Tuesday, EU general affairs ministers also held their own discussion on the fight against anti-Semitism across the bloc, a problem which, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV, is “a cross-cutting issue” for the German EU presidency.

The question of how to tackle online hate speech was the main topic at last week’s EU-Israel seminar on racism, xenophobia and antisemitism.

Paul Nemitz, the EU executive’s principal adviser for justice and consumers, said that ‘’to ensure the safety of its users, the digital highway needs rules. The spike of anti-Semitic and racist hate speech in the course of the COVID pandemic has increased the urgency”.

Nemitz added that the Commission’s upcoming Digital Services Act proposal would aim “for a harmonised, clear set of due-diligence obligations for online platforms, redress mechanisms, accountability measures, and cooperation obligations with public authorities.’’

Fourteen EU countries are in the process of adopting, or have adopted, national strategies or have integrated specific action against anti-Semitism into their overall strategies against racism and violent extremism.

The non-legally binding IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism has been adopted by 18 EU member states.

“The road from conspiracy myths to hate crime is short, as we have seen at the terrorist attacks in Halle, Paris, Copenhagen and elsewhere,” said Katharina von Schnurbein, the Commission’s coordinator on combatting anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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