Antisemitism strikes at the heart of the European Union

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

CEJI director Robin Sclafani.

New members of the European Parliament need to break the cycle of antisemitism in the European Union, writes Robin Sclafani.

Robin Sclafani is director of CEJI-A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe. CEJI is a long-term member of the European Network Against Racism.

The European Union was set up with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, reeling from the shock of what conspired in the Holocaust during World War II. 

As the new European Parliament and European Commission take shape, protests invoking “death to the Jews” have hit the streets of many European cities while social media facilitates a barrage of hate speech.  Arguments that these incidents are caused by the exchange of fire between Hamas and Israel are invalid as we have witnessed an escalation of violent attacks against Jewish people and places over the last year, such as the murders at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May.  For at least the last decade, it is simply not safe for a person to publically display symbols of their Jewishness in some parts of Europe, including in Brussels, the capital of the European Union.

New members of the European Parliament need to take responsibility to break the cycle of bias and bigotry, in Parliament as well as within home constituencies and with colleagues. Regarding antisemitism, this means:

  • not linking Israeli politics and actions to Jews in general nor making comparisons with the Holocaust, Nazis, Hitler or apartheid
  • not invoking Jewish stereotypes, myths and conspiracy theories in political commentary
  • not pitting one community against another by instrumentalizing issues, such as Jewish security or Israel, in order to crack down on another community with discriminatory policies.

The European Parliament and the European Commission must ensure they are not only spectators to the threat and reality of antisemitism which continues to thrive in the European Union. They must ensure the freedom of Jewish people, with all their diversity, to live in safety and security so that they can continue an active role in European society.

One concrete action would be to pass hate crime legislation within European Criminal Law so that responses and penalties to bias-motivated crime are considered within common standards across the EU. Another would be to develop initiatives that effectively combat hate speech on the internet and the proliferation of hate ideologies through social media.

Putting forward education policies and standards that develop intercultural and anti-bias competencies, and make effective use of Holocaust education to overcome antisemitism and hatred of all kinds in a modern-day context, is also crucial. 

There is enough to despair about in Europe today in terms of discrimination, social exclusion, and violence and hate crime – against Jews, Muslims, Roma, Blacks, Migrants, LGBT, Disabled people, and others. There is no hierarchy which makes one more important than another, but, we must deal with the specificities of antisemitism.

Sometimes referred to as the “oldest hatred,” persecution of the Jewish people existed before there was Christianity or Islam, before the Middle East conflict. While it may not manifest itself in the same kind of economic discrimination as some other forms of racism in Europe today, it remains still a virulent, insidious, cross-cutting, and often violent hatred which strikes at the heart of the European Union.  

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