Anti-Semitism in Europe
European Parliament Hearing
26 February 2015
Jason Isaacson: Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members of the European Parliament, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, colleagues from the AJC Transatlantic Institute, esteemed friends
Thank you for the opportunity to once again appear before this august body and present to you my and my organization’s concerns and perspectives on the rising – and intolerable – incidence of anti-Semitism in Europe. I do so knowing it is by no means my organization’s and my community’s concerns alone that I am representing – but the concerns of everyone in this room, the concerns of every conscientious citizen of Europe.
We gather today just nine months and two days after a murderous rampage by an Islamist extremist at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, two kilometers from here, left four people dead – not the first and not the last in a wave of deadly attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe. We gather less than two months after the atrocities in Paris – the massacres at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. We gather less than two weeks after a killing spree at a free speech program and at the entrance of a synagogue in Copenhagen.
A friend and colleague of mine, a member of the board of the AJC Transatlantic Institute, is an expatriate Danish Jew – and grew up with Dan Uzan, who died while guarding a bat mitzvah that Saturday night in Copenhagen. I’d like to read part of a note my friend sent me the day after that horrific episode: “These past days have been very difficult. I knew Dan Uzan since the eighth grade. We went to school together and have stayed in contact since…. Dan was known by most in the Danish Jewish community as he was a volunteer guard for the synagogue and the community. But it was not only the Jewish community that loved and respected him. His basketball club, where he played at the elite level and always volunteered to help out, is in shock. His former and current work places and university colleagues are in sorrow. He was a big, warm guy loved by everyone who met him. It is so terribly unfair. Baruch Dayan Emet. Rest in peace, dear Dan."
“As you can imagine, fear is penetrating the community. My parents and their friends are cancelling their social events, and keeping a low profile. Except for condolence messages, my Jewish friends are refraining from voicing their opinions – myself included. My sister, who has a 3-year-old daughter, has been calling me daily, in shock and scared for the future of her child. We simply cannot understand what is happening in our safe and happy country. We all know that Dan died a hero protecting his community – however, had it not been Dan it would have been someone else from the community, because this attack was not personal – it was general, against all Jews. And this is what makes me shake."
“The politicians are still not accepting the reality and are twisting and turning the issue to avoid saying that there is a REAL problem with anti-Semitism and radical Islam. These days I feel helpless…. Tonight thousands of Danish people are gathering to show respect for the victims, including the Danish man who participated in a freedom of speech-themed event and was also viciously murdered. They want to show that Denmark is strong and will not bow to terrorism. But I am not convinced that all the people marching really understand what is going on, what is at stake. I am not convinced that this terrible attack will change anything. I pray to God I am wrong….” Don’t we all? My friend’s letter is a reminder that the terrible phenomenon we are experiencing, the phenomenon of violent anti-Semitism that European Jews are confronting, isn’t theoretical, isn’t a policy abstraction. It’s profoundly personal.
Every day, my colleagues in AJC’s offices here in Brussels and across Europe – and Jews throughout the European Union – are facing a personal quandary and making wrenching personal decisions: Do I stay or do I go? Am I a responsible parent if I send my child to the Jewish day school – passing the soldiers or anti-terrorist police officers stationed (if they are, indeed, stationed) out front, and explaining – or avoiding explaining – why all these gates and cameras and weapons are now necessary? How much am I risking my life if I go to Jewish religious services and communal events – knowing that I will be entering and exiting through the one clearly marked door that surely must be on the watch-list of the jihadist cells and lone wolves that have embedded themselves in my and nearby countries, and possibly even in my neighborhood?
It is an abomination that these are the thoughts – the entirely justified worries – of more than a million Jews in Europe, a continent that has been home to Jews and enlivened by Jews for more than two millennia, a continent that was saturated in the blood of Jews seven decades ago. But that is the tragic case today. I ask you, I appeal to you, the elected representatives of the 28 member states of the European Union, to change this unacceptable reality – not for the sake of your Jewish constituents alone – but for the sake of Europe, its noble principles, and its future. This is the task before us.
Please allow me to sketch out a few steps that my colleagues and I, after consultations across Europe, would urge you to consider. The most basic request is to formulate – Europe-wide, country by country, and immediately – an action plan to combat anti-Semitism: a plan that has community consent, clear lines of authority, achievable goals, sufficient funding, and a long-term commitment.
The first step – a step already taken by many national leaders, including Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Valls – is to express at the highest levels that fundamental commitment to fight anti-Semitism. Heads of state must speak out clearly and sincerely; members of the European Parliament – and I applaud this delegation for doing so – and members of national parliaments must create platforms to affirm solidarity with targeted communities, and identify and censure the purveyors of this hate. Jewish communities and the general public need to hear directly from European leaders that anti-Semitism violates core European principles and will not be tolerated. Civil society – including faith leaders – must be summoned to carry the message that anti-Semitism is socially, politically and religiously unacceptable.
Second, we need to know as precisely as possible the dimensions and the sources of the threat we’re facing. If radical Islamists are targeting Jews – sometimes in the most brutal ways, as in the torture death of Ilan Halimi outside Paris nine years ago and the murders of young children and a rabbi at the Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and sometimes in the sort of bullying and menacing rhetoric so common in last summer’s street demonstrations against Israel and against Jews – then let us be honest enough to identify the nature of the problem.
Because we are talking about a dangerous sub-minority of an important and highly diverse minority – and because anti-Semitism in Europe has a long history and is by no means the exclusive preserve of that minority – it is necessary to define the challenges we face.
Even after a year of physical attacks and chilling displays of hate, data on anti-Semitic attitudes in EU member states – and analyses of the specific sources, social prevalence and potential ramifications of those attitudes – are in shockingly short supply. So too are comprehensive data on anti-Semitic incidents and perpetrators. In order to fashion appropriate and targeted responses, the clearest possible profile of European anti-Semitism is necessary.
A recent survey in France found dramatically stronger anti-Jewish sentiment in certain political and demographic sectors; such findings will help the French government deploy educational, law enforcement and other resources more effectively. We call on all member states to collect and forthrightly analyze the data on the sources and effects of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Third, recognizing the very specific problem of alienated and vulnerable Muslim youth, we call on the European Union and its member states to formulate and implement broad-ranging counter-radicalization programs, working in partnership with Muslim and other faith and civil society leaders. Part of that program will require assuring that religious leaders in Europe convey messages to the faithful that aren’t antithetical to European values.
Part of it will require stricter attention to, and prudent steps against, the radical preachings now commonly disseminated in European prisons. Part of it will require long-overdue and unprecedented cooperation with Muslim community leaders; indifference to and neglect of these communities is not only unjust, but socially irresponsible. Their active participation in this struggle is necessary. And part of the counter-radicalization agenda will require a new commitment to tolerance education – although we acknowledge the long timeline such an undertaking entails.
We must enlist public and private schools in structured efforts to change the attitudes of youth harboring anti-Semitic views. In order to succeed, we should challenge conventional classroom approaches, review existing curricular materials, and create new ones as necessary. Education ministries must direct greatest attention to students found to be most prone to intolerance – including those subject to intolerance themselves. We recognize that educating students to identify and condemn anti-Semitism will require more than teaching about the horrors of the Holocaust, and more than clichéd paeans to brotherhood; educators must be encouraged to develop accessible new curricula imparting the core message that anti-Semitism is incompatible with fundamental European values.
Fourth, we simply must do a more effective job of monitoring – and detoxifying – social media. The Internet, the ultimate medium for information sharing, allows as well for the instant and universal dissemination of anti-Semitism. Several organizations across the EU are monitoring existing Web sites and social media accounts, and watching as new ones spring up. Efforts to close sites that promote hate are challenged by differing laws and jurisdictional questions – and free speech concerns.
My AJC colleagues and I call on European governments to reexamine such laws, to adopt and strengthen hate speech measures to prevent, limit and punish the worst offenders, to share information on this dangerous phenomenon, to seek the cooperation of Internet Service Providers, and to block sites and accounts that promote and incite violence. Better reporting structures and quicker response times will be required from social media providers to combat the spread of radicalization online.
The fifth element of a successful work plan against anti-Semitism is prevention. As we know too well, European jihadists travel to Syria and Iraq, are indoctrinated and hardened in war, and – if they survive and return home – pose a lifelong security threat in their countries, and across the Continent. These “foreign fighters,” now numbering several thousand, can freely traverse the Schengen Area; one such French jihadist is accused of traveling to Belgium and committing the atrocity at the Jewish Museum that I cited earlier. Extremists pose a terror threat to all European citizens, but Jews and Jewish institutions are high on their target list. It is necessary that European governments put in place the necessary border controls, surveillance procedures, and formal systems for information sharing between countries to prevent the return of jihadi radicals to Europe – or more importantly, to keep them from leaving in the first place.
Sixth and finally, Europe must assure the physical security of Jewish communities, their members and institutions. Jews across the Continent experienced a surge in anti-Semitic violence and threats last summer, at the time of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. More recently, even after repeated attacks on Jewish sites and even after being alerted to specific threats to their Jewish citizens, too many jurisdictions across Europe withheld or provided only token police protection – while others, including France, mobilized on a massive scale.
It is essential that European governments undertake thorough analyses of the security of their Jewish communities, engage outside experts as needed, enlist law enforcement authorities to assure appropriate responses, and make resources available to bolster the security of communities most at risk. What I have sketched out is a six-part program – the template, I submit, of a European work plan to combat anti-Semitism. But what must come first is will – the will of European leadership to assure the security and the European future of Europe’s Jews, and to defend the values, the security and the future of Europe as a whole. Thank you.