Thursday, December 19, 2013

Europe Turns Blind Eye to Anti-Semitism

Arsen Ostrovsky

It is inexplicable that the EU Fundamental Rights Agency has removed its very own "Working definition of anti-Semitism" from its website, while more than half of OSCE Member States continue to be in breach of EU laws to monitor anti-Semitic incidents.
Serious questions must be asked of the EU about its resolve to tackle this form of hatred, when it cannot even agree on how to define anti-Semitism or comply with the most elementary laws to help combat it.
Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, recently said anti-Semitism is "a crime against Europe and its culture, against man and its humanity. To be anti-Semitic is to reject Europe."
Van Rompuy's remarks were made just last month, upon the release of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency's (FRA) report on the disturbing, yet not surprising, findings of rampant anti-Semitism in Europe.
His comments echo those of other EU officials and European leaders.
Yet, for all the EU's rhetoric condemning anti-Semitism and calling for urgent steps to combat it, their actions portray a very different picture.
Take for example the above-mentioned FRA report on anti-Semitism, released November 8th. The report was an exhaustive study on "Jewish people's experiences of discrimination and hate crime" in eight EU member states - Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the United Kingdom – that combined, make up about 90% of the EU's Jewish population.
An image from the recent FRA report on anti-Semitism.
According to the report, two-thirds of the respondents considered anti-Semitism to be a problem in those states surveyed, with three-quarters indicating the level of anti-Semitism in their country had worsened in the past five years and a quarter saying they were afraid to openly identify as Jewish for fear of anti-Semitism.
Now comes the inexplicable news that FRA has removed its very own "Working definition of anti-Semitism" from its website.

According to FRA officials, the "Working Definition" was removed as part of a clearing out of all "non-official" documents because it was only a "discussion paper" that was "never adopted."
Although the "Working Definition," initially drafted in 2004 and which provided for a strong and exhaustive definition of anti-Semitism, was, regrettably, never formally adopted by the EU, it nonetheless provided an authoritative source of guidance and expert advice for EU institutions and member states in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Importantly, the "Working Definition" had also recognized that the vilification of Israel, and Israelis, as a form of anti-Semitism today.
It is simply unfathomable that an organization tasked with providing guidance and leadership on combating anti-Semitism, and which only weeks ago released a major report on the unprecedented rise in anti-Semitism across Europe, would now remove even the tenuous definition of the very crime it seeks to combat.
In addition to FRA, there is another major European-based body, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is tasked with, among other matters, combating anti-Semitism.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the OSCE takes significant guidance on this from FRA.
The central part of OSCE's mission is the requirement for member states to collect information and monitor anti-Semitic incidents in their home states. Yet, in its most recent annual report for 2012, also released last month, only 27 of the 57 OSCE Member States submitted official statistics. Among the countries that did not submit the required official statistics include: France, Hungary, Greece, Russia and Belgium -- some of the very countries identified by FRA as having the highest levels of anti-Semitism.
Quite simply, without reliable data on anti-Semitic incidents, how can governments and Jewish communities properly assess levels of anti-Semitism or propose remedies?
With anti-Semitism in Europe having reached a level unprecedented since the end of the Holocaust, serious questions must be asked of the EU about its resolve to tackle this oldest and most enduring form of hatred, when it cannot even agree on how to define anti-Semitism or comply with the most elementary laws to help combat it.
So what should be done?
First, the EU should be pressed to immediately reinstate the FRA "Working Definition of anti-Semitism" as the legislative basis of the definition of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Any definition of anti-Semitism should also be done in conjunction with battling against Holocaust denial, which is gaining widespread prevalence with the rise of far-right neo-Nazi movements across many parts of Europe.
Under current EU law, Holocaust denial is punishable by a jail sentence of up to three years. However, EU countries that do not have such a prohibition in their own domestic legislation are not bound to enforce the EU law. At present, only 13 of the 28 EU member states have laws specifically criminalizing Holocaust denial.
Concurrently, European governments should also be pressed to monitor anti-Semitism, as already required under accords reached between the EU and OSCE.
And lastly, education, education, education. The history of the Holocaust and its lessons and implications should be compulsory study in high schools across Europe. People are not born to hate, they learn to hate.
If Herman Van Rompuy is sincere in saying that "to be anti-Semitic is to reject Europe," European political institutions must lead by example, with deeds, not just words.
Arsen Ostrovsky is an International Human Rights Lawyer, with a focus on Middle East foreign policy and international law.

No comments: