Upsurge in antisemitism in Europe in tandem with rise of populism

Written by Martin Banks on 22 May 2019 in News
News

Antisemitism has returned to become more widespread in Europe than anyone ever predicted, against a backdrop of populism, intolerance and xenophobia, a conference has been told.

Photo credit: Press Association


The Brussels meeting heard that many had thought antisemitism had been “relegated to an inglorious past” but that France and Germany alone have reported an increase in offences against Jews of 74 percent and 60 percent respectively.

Last year, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) conducted the biggest ever survey of Jewish people, covering 12 Member States and involving almost 16,500 Jews.

The results were “shocking” with 90 percent of the respondents sensing a growing antisemitism and 30 percent having even been themselves harassed.


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“Fear has become a constant part of Jewish people's lives and an alarming 38 percent are considering emigrating,” the conference, organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), was told.

Participants included Raya Kalenova (European Jewish Congress), Michał Bilewicz (Centre for Research on Prejudice, University of Warsaw) and Joel Kotek (Free University of Brussels).

EESC president Luca Jahier said that the issue was central to what we stand for in Europe, adding, "Recent events are showing us that we must not let our guard down and think that the sixty years of peace in Europe can be taken for granted.”

“And although our fundamental rights are enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union, we need to defend them every single day,” he added.

"Recent events are showing us that we must not let our guard down and think that the sixty years of peace in Europe can be taken for granted” Luca Jahier, EESC President

Kalenova said that the European Jewish Congress felt an increasing sense of emergency because places of worship, community institutions, and even Jewish shops and homes were being targeted.

Wearing a kippa in public is unsafe today, she said, and identifying oneself as a Jew in social media is often an invitation to harassment.

Many Jewish children were unable to attend state schools and antisemitic threats were becoming more common in schools, universities and workplaces all over Europe, she told the event, adding, "If they send their kid to a state school, the kid is a target. If they send their kid to a Jewish school, the school is a target.”

Equally alarming, she said, is the fact that only 1 out of 10 young people know about the Holocaust. In France it is only 1 out of 5.

To combat antisemitism, it is important to know what it actually is, the conference heard.

“If they [Jewish parents] send their kid to a state school, the kid is a target. If they send their kid to a Jewish school, the school is a target” Raya Kalenova, European Jewish Congress

"The message today is that antisemitism is not only a threat to the Jewish community," warned Kalenova.

"Radicals are gaining strength and the forces of moderation have been weak. Populism, intolerance and xenophobia are threatening our democratic foundations."

Further comment came from Bilewicz, who said that antisemitism in western European countries was more linked to the Muslim community, while in Eastern Europe it had its roots not just in right-wing extremism, but also in the Christian community.

A survey conducted in 2017, for instance, revealed that in Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, every fourth or every fifth inhabitant would not accept a Jew as a neighbour.

In Eastern Europe particularly, Jews are themselves blamed for growing antisemitism by 1 out of 4.

Many Europeans (50 percent in Poland, 37 percent in Austria and 32 percent in Germany) also believe that Jews exploit the Holocaust.

"Against all expectations, the conspiracy theory that Jews have too much power is again back in our society, in the media and sometimes even in our parliaments” Joel Kotek, Free University of Brussels-ULB

Kotek said, "Against all expectations, the conspiracy theory that Jews have too much power is again back in our society, in the media and sometimes even in our parliaments.”

Hatred against Jews was more perceptible than ever and they were even being targeted by the yellow vests movement in France.

"The Jewish people are declining in Europe. In Poland there were 3.3 million Jews before the Second World War, and now there are only around 20 000. It is therefore important to normalise our relations," said Kotek.

During the debate, many EESC members expressed their support for the Jewish community, as well as their commitment to the fight against any discrimination of minorities.

"It is our duty to fight any act of antisemitism in Europe," said EESC Employers' Group President Jacek Krawczyk.

"It is antisemitism that led to the Holocaust. It is our obligation to preserve the memory of the causes of that enormous tragedy” Jacek Krawczyk, EESC Employers' Group President

"It is antisemitism that led to the Holocaust. It is our obligation to preserve the memory of the causes of that enormous tragedy.”

“The EU founding fathers realised this and that is why they started the European project - to make sure that this will never happen again. Eighty years after the Second World War started, it would be a serious mistake to forget this. We should all think of this when choosing whom to vote for in the European elections," he said.

Arno Metzler, President of the EESC Diversity Europe group, said: "We all should protest and speak up frankly and freely in our personal circles when we hear unpleasant jokes about Jewish people and the past. I think it is a public obligation and it is also a personal obligation to defend our European values."

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the fight against antisemitism in the EU should be one of his country's priorities during its EU presidency in the second half of 2020.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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