Dozens of prominent European Jewish leaders, parliamentarians, and diplomats from across the continent gathered Tuesday in Brussels at the start of the European Jewish Association’s (EJA) Community Leaders Conference including vice presidents of the European Commission and addresses by Israeli President Issac Herzog and Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labor).
The conference opened with Europe’s Action and Protection League (APL) on combating anti-Semitism, unveiling a new survey and an integrated database on the disturbing levels of prevalent anti-Semitism across 16 European countries.
The EJA Conference of Jewish Leaders represents a first chance for the community heads to get together as travel restrictions are lifted and discuss unprecedented challenges and work to find solutions.
“Whilst we congratulate the European Institutions on increasing resources, expertise, and significant funding to tackle it, we are currently well behind in keeping up with its spread, as the disturbing findings from our partners survey shows. On the back of these disturbing survey findings, there is much more to be done at a continental political level,” asserted EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin ahead of the conference.
Rabbi Margolin, who called the Conference together, added, “Whilst Europe was rightly focusing on eradicating the COVID pandemic, another virus was continuing to multiply. Anti-Semitism is deeply ingrained in Europe, and hard to treat. Our conference represents the firing of a starting gun on a stalled race against this old virus. We have much, much more to do at a continental political level.”
“Our plan to kickstart this process again involves the adoption of our ‘ten commandments’ to fight anti-Semitism, which will be taken forward by parliamentary working groups from across Europe,” he said.
The conference will see the publication of a 10-point plan, “the ten commandments” by the EJA to eradicate anti-Semitism and the establishment of parliamentary working groups to drive this process forwards. Among these “ten commandments” are the promotion of educational initiatives underlining that anti-Semitism has no place in a modern and tolerant Europe, and pressure social media companies to act faster and more decisively on hate speech by imposing punitive and serious financial penalties when such content lingers.
The Action and Protection League (APL) – partners of the EJA – commissioned the survey with IPSOS SA, under the leadership of Professor András Kovács of Central European University, Vienna-Budapest, taking in 16 European countries and asking respondents direct questions, and following up where seemed necessary. The countries polled are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The survey showed that nearly one-third of respondents in Austria, Hungary and Poland said Jews will never be able to fully integrate into society. In addition, nearly one-third agreed that there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world. (Romania - 29%; France - 28%; Czech Republic - 23% ).
In Spain, 35% said Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians; 29% said the same in the Netherlands; and 26% agreed with the statement in Sweden. In Latvia, just over a third - 34% - said Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes; 23% agreed in Germany; and 22% agreed in Belgium.
A quarter of all those surveyed agreed with the statement that Israel’s policies make them understand why some people hate Jews.
The survey serves as a complement to data on anti-Semitic assaults around Europe, and according to APL, it can be used to form a practical action plan only together with additional info on the legislative and educational environment of each state.
“Jews around Europe need to propose specific action-plans to their governments as well as on the EU level,” said Rabbi Shlomo Koves, founder of APL and initiator of the survey. “As a next step we need to initiate an independent monitoring of anti-Semitic assaults in the member states where this is still not existent.”
“We need to take our fate into our hands if we want our grandchildren to be able to live in Europe in 20-50 years from now.”
He added that in order to have specific course of action we first need a clear understanding of the current situation based on research of unquestionable integrity. This goal is served by the largest anti-Semitic attitude research of all time in Europe delivered by the APL.
“As a next step we need to initiate an independent monitoring of anti-Semitic assaults in the member states where this is still not existent,” he said, adding that, “Education and legislative measures as well as law enforcement practices are definitely a key to our fight for survival.”
“Form the available major types of statistical date, - perception, attitude and incident figures, - we propose to create a unified integrated index which is refreshed as frequently as possible. We can draw from such a sensitive indicator the future conclusions in picking best practices in education, research, legislation and security. APL for now, as a first step, has created a new comprehensive anti-Semitism database that integrates existing research and anti-Semitic hate crime reports from Jewish communities across Europe,” added APL secretary Kalman Szalai. “The database will be available on the internet when the organization opens its Brussels office, beginning October 13.”
President of the Consistory of France and Paris and the European Center for Judaism, Joël Mergui stated: “One thing is certain, while the European institutions and politicians devote significant resources and spare no effort in the fight against anti-Semitism, the situation in Europe is not improving. Worse, it is deteriorating. It is time to face the facts. Combating anti-Semitism cannot be reduced to isolating and penalizing anti-Semitic acts. This penalty is of course essential. Perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts should not never go unpunished.”
“But for it to be truly effective, the fight against anti-Semitism must get to the root of the problem. Europe must launch concrete initiatives in the field of education to combat anti-Jewish stereotypes. It must also value the heritage and the contribution of Judaism and remind ceaselessly that Jewish spirituality is an integral part of European culture.
“Europe must also commit to preserving freedom of conscience and worship. It must condemn punitive laws on the ancient religious practices of ritual slaughter and circumcision. These freedoms are the guarantors of the durability of Judaism on the Continent. They are not negotiable. Jews are a barometer of freedom: where they can fully experience their Jewish identity, so can everyone.”
The survey was based on responses to 70 questions and follow-up interviews of 1,000 individuals in 16 EU countries with significant Jewish communities: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Following the survey, the League called for an all-comprehensive EU anti-Semitism indicator and a legislative and educational action plan.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog, addressed the European Jewish Association (EJA) Conference from Jerusalem, warning against the spread of anti-Semitism.
Speaking at the conference, Herzog said, “Europe faces an unprecedented challenge with the coronavirus. At the same time the plague of anti-Semitism continues to spread on the street and online. We continue to see threats to Jewish religious and cultural life in Europe including calls, legislation and judgments that support a ban on Jewish circumcision and productions of kosher meat.”
“I urge all of you to use all of the tools at your disposal to ensure that European Jews can live an open, free and secure Jewish life. Israel will always be a home for you and will always be by your side”
European Commission Vice-President H.E. Margaritis Schinas said, “Last year when I was with you I made you a promise to reinforce our efforts to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms, to support communities and to foster Jewish life in all its diversity. Last week I was proud to present the EU’s first strategy on combating anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life. We will prevent all types of anti-Semitism including Israel-related anti-Semitism, which is the most common form, using all the tools at our disposal. We know that Europe can only prosper when its Jewish communities can prosper too.”
Israeli Minister of Diaspora, Nachman Shai promised the European Jewish leaders from Jerusalem: “Within the new government of Israel, the voice of world Jews must be heard. we can see a direct link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, where the cold lines of a graph spike during turbulent times in Israel, and Jews get targeted in Europe in response.”