The murder of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris in March this year sent shock waves across France and the wider Jewish population in Europe.
In April, German police investigated an assault on two young Jewish men in Berlin, during which the attacker was filmed shouting anti-Semitic abuse.
In April, the leader of the UK’s Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, received widespread condemnation for posting positive comments about a graffiti viewed as anti-Semitic.
During the recent Hungarian elections, Viktor Orbán, the leader of the Fidesz party, which is part of the EPP group, was criticised for using anti-Semitic language and imagery against Jewish billionaire George Soros.
Despite the legacy of the Holocaust on modern European history, MEPs fear that widespread anti-Semitism is now returning.
Austrian EPP group MEP Heinz Becker, Chair of the European Parliament’s working group on anti-Semitism, believes the growing number of attacks on Jewish people is due to “polarisation, populism, and extremism on both side of the political spectrum. These factors are giving anti-Semitic sentiments additional outlets to surfaces in its ugliest form to a new level of violence.”
According to the working group’s Vice-Chair, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, it is important to acknowledge that “anti-Semitism has never gone and is not simply an extremist ideology, but is now a worrisome mainstream phenomenon that can be found in all aspects of society.”
Greens/EFA group MEP Helga Trüpel, reacting to the murder of Knoll, said “As a German citizen, it is shocking to see in the wake of Shoah (the Jewish term for the Holocaust), with only a few remaining survivors among us, that anti-Semitism is spreading again.”
She added, “It corrupts the very core of our democratic society, and eradicating it should be an imperative in the name of modern civilised society and our shared values that the EU is built on.”
Becker highlighted how anti-Semitism is no longer only connected to far-right groups, it has now shifted to mainstream politics. “The increase in anti-Semitism is additionally fuelled by a shocking rhetoric from political leaders, be it in the UK Labour Party or in Hungary’s Fidesz.”
Trüpel also acknowledged the political mainstreaming of anti-Semitic views, saying, “The common use of stereotypes by all demographics, the spill over of the Middle East conflict as well as the acceptance and use of slurs, constitute to a mix that fuels anti-Semitism.”
She believed that social media and the rise of Islamism, “combined with an insufficient European integration policy in the past 30 years and society’s lack of action regarding hate speech in public life”, had also contributed. Meanwhile, she said the far-left branding “Jews as inherently racist and privileged has become mainstream.”
To tackle the problem, Becker called on EU member states to act, by implementing measures as set out in Parliament’s resolution as voted in June 2017. “The ball is now in the court of the EU member states to implement these measures. Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania, Romania and the UK have all adopted measures.”
Praising the Bulgarian EU Council presidency, he said, “We have seen renewed energy to push for the implementation of the resolution.”
López wanted to see in place “national coordinators on anti-Semitism, directly connected to their governments, an increase of financial support for the security of Jewish communities as well as the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition on anti-Semitism.”
He also wanted to see more reliable data on attacks, that not only included attacks punishable by criminal law, but also verbal attacks.
The Spanish deputy pointed out that “Eight out of ten European Jews are feeling that anti-Semitism is a big problem, but only two out of ten non-Jews believe that this is an issue. There is an obvious gap between mainstream perception and that of Jewish communities, that needs to be closed.”
MEPs also identified how the current Palestinian and Israeli crisis, particularly the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, was fuelling attacks on Jews. In March MEPs held a special hearing on BDS. Becker said “the objective of the BDS was to demonise the state of Israel and the Jewish people and specifically targeting Jews in Europe.”
Greek S&D group MEP Miltos Kyrkos said, “Many people supported BDS out of a real interest for Palestinian rights. Criticism of any government is totally legitimate, but the BDS has turned it into attacks on the Jewish collective identity, and the Jewish state.”
Kyrkos called on the left to act by “first recognising the problem in its ranks and secondly work actively to prohibit conspiracy theories and hate speech. With the endorsement of a code of conduct, but most importantly through political dialogue and education.”