Escalation of anti-Semitism in Europe calls for urgent action

Opinion piece by Michael Privot, ENAR Director, on The Parliament Magazine’s website.

26 August 2014

Racist slogans invoking "death to the Jews" have been heard during protests against the war in Gaza in several European cities in the last weeks, especially in France and Belgium. Online anti-Semitic hate speech, especially on social media, is also exploding across Europe. These incidents, strongly condemned by a great diversity and majority of community leaders, reflect a worrying spike in anti-Semitism and come as a stark reminder that anti-Semitism is still very much a reality in Europe today. Indeed, a recent survey by the EU fundamental rights agency showed that two in three Jewish respondents consider anti-Semitism to be a major problem in the eight countries surveyed. Jews in Europe should not pay the price for the Israeli government’s policies.

In Britain, around 100 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in July, double the usual number, whereas in the Netherlands, there has been an increase in anti-Semitic hate on the Internet, with reports of 400 expressions of anti-Semitism in the second half of July, mainly on social media. In Germany, some protesters were prevented from attacking a synagogue in Berlin, and Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in Wuppertal. Anti-Semitic graffiti and flyers are appearing on walls and in shops in many cities across Europe. In Liege, Belgium, a café owner put up a sign stating that dogs were welcome, but Jews were not allowed. In France, some participants of a banned protest rampaged through the Jewish quarter of Sarcelles in July, attacked a funeral home and set fire to a pharmacy, sparking reactions from a Jewish vigilante group.

This situation is legitimately provoking a climate of fear among Jewish communities in Europe, reaching peaks not faced for more than a couple of decades. Many are renouncing their visibility in public spaces for fear of retaliation. Jewish organisations and representatives are receiving threats and are under police protection.

While often the acts of disenfranchised and/or unaffiliated groups, these criminal offences distort the general calls for peace and threaten European Jews’ rights to security and integrity. People have the right to express their opinions and their dissent publicly. However, this should under no circumstances give way to racial hatred towards communities that are perceived to have connections to countries or movements accused of breaching human rights standards. This principle applies to the concerning expressions of Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate speech in Europe in reaction to ongoing conflicts in other parts of the world, such as the acts of violence committed by the group "Islamic state of Iraq and Syria".

Public authorities across Europe must take steps to prevent acts of hatred towards Jewish communities and promote cross-community initiatives by civil society in Europe, to efficiently counter racism. The new European parliament and European commission have a key role to play in addressing anti-Semitism and other specific forms of racism present in Europe, especially in the context of the rise of xenophobic and racist parties as a result of the European elections.

One concrete action would be to move forward on proposing a new reinforced EU law on hate crime which would effectively protect existing and potential victims of such bias-motivated violence and incitement to hatred. Politicians in the European parliament also need to act responsibly by not inciting to discrimination, prejudice or hatred in their political work and by developing appropriate and dissuasive sanctions against politicians using racist discourses in their parliamentary work. Reactions and sanctions imposed by peers would stop the growing feeling of impunity and lack of democratic accountability.

Published on The Parliament Magazine’s website

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