One year ago, the European Commission presented the first-ever E.U. Strategy for combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life. Upon its release, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, tellingly said: “Europe can only prosper when its Jewish communities feel safe and prosper.”
Having worked for many years with European decision-makers and opinion-shapers on national and international levels, it is clear to me that this is an effort unprecedented in its scope, depth and breadth. This was not just a theoretical Brussels “white paper,” but an actionable plan that can serve as a blueprint for both the Union itself and each of its 27 member states.
What is now needed is a structured accountability mechanism to ensure these commitments are fully implemented.
What sets the Commission’s report apart is that it encourages each country to develop national strategies for combating antisemitism, include measures in their national action plans against racism and provide sufficient funding to implement them. The report calls for the adoption and use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and encourages local authorities, regions, cities and other institutions and organizations to do the same, as well as to appoint special envoys or coordinators on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.
A year later, we must urgently address two issues, which along with the above are crucial to any successful policy to combat antisemitism.
The first is to actively strengthen the capacity of national and local law enforcement and judicial authorities to prosecute those involved in antisemitic attacks in general and online hate in particular.
We have far too many recent examples of how hate speech online does not stay there. Many who have perpetrated attacks against Jews in recent years admit to being radicalized by what they saw online, such as lengthy antisemitic manifestos and conspiracy theories.
The recent antisemitic incidents in the United States involving Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) and Kyrie Irving led to a new high in antisemitic hashtags. This online hatred united disparate groups, such as white supremacists, extremists within the Black Hebrew Israelite movement and radical left-wing activists. We are now seeing the results on the ground.
The second and related point is that we must strengthen education against antisemitism.
According to a study conducted a few years ago, about one in four Europeans holds antisemitic beliefs. We must reverse this worrying trend, which can only be done through education. Teaching tolerance towards Jews must begin as young as possible, through junior and high schools, in formal and informal educational settings.
More and more children and youths have spent an increasingly large amount of time online because of the Covid-19 lockdowns. They have been exposed to antisemitic hate speech and conspiracy theories. There must be a counterbalance to this in the classrooms and informal education programs.
Syllabi should focus on demystifying what it is to be a Jew and teaching about how the Jewish people have been targets in the past and the present. Students should be given tools to recognize lies and hate for what they are. All forms of antisemitism must be addressed, including modern manifestations involving Jewish collectivity in Israel.
The E.U. must address these issues in the year ahead. The action plan is out, and every decision-maker across the E.U. has had a year to study its recommendations and devise a plan to implement them into their national strategies and policies. The best opportunity for monitoring performance is through the quarterly Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) at the Council of the E.U., which consists of justice and home affairs ministers from the Union’s member states.
I call on this forum to add the task of implementing policies against antisemitism and xenophobia among the member states as a permanent agenda item. The urgency of this issue gives it the same importance as any other matter on the forum’s agenda.
Indeed, antisemitism is as urgent an issue as the free movement of persons, asylum and immigration, judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters, police and customs cooperation, combating discrimination, the fight against terrorism and organized crime and more.
Furthermore, with antisemitism becoming prevalent again in Europe, I believe it is only fitting that fighting antisemitism and the action plan adopted by the E.U. last year be implemented in the E.U.’s current strategic agenda, and the next one for the years 2025-2029.
The time for implementation is now. These measures offer much-needed accountability and guidelines for E.U. members.
Jews do not feel safe in many parts of the continent. They need European leaders to take this matter in hand and implement the strategy’s recommendations in order to give European Jewry a sense that they can once again feel safe, secure and prosperous.
Robert Singer is chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact, chairman of the Board of Trustees of World ORT, a member of the governing board of the Combat Antisemitism Movement and the former CEO of the World Jewish Congress.