The menace of anti-Semitism is nothing new in 21st-century Europe.
On Feb. 13, 2006, French Jew Ilan Halimi was found dead on a street in Paris after having been kidnapped and tortured by a gang over a three-week period. An article in The Wall Street Journal at the time noted that members of the gang admitted they “tortured Ilan with particular cruelty simply because he was Jewish.” Nine years later, the Anti-Defamation League’s survey of global anti-Semitism shows that 24 percent of the adult population in Western Europe and 34 percent in Eastern Europe still harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. As Tibor Navracsics, a European Union commissioner, states, “The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is a systematic failure of the European society.”
Members of the American Jewish community are appalled by the ongoing actions targeting their brethren in Europe and are looking to Congress and the White House to push Europe to confront this scourge. While the U.S. government should continue to encourage foreign leaders to speak out against anti-Semitism and condemn acts of violence against Jews, the United States also can propose specific steps for Europe to define, monitor and combat anti-Semitism with legislative and presidential action.
Thousands of radicalized Europeans have traveled to the Middle East and are fighting for ISIS. These militants already have massacred innocent Jews and non-Jews in Toulouse, Paris and Brussels after returning home from the battlefield.
Ultranationalist anti-Semitic European political parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik and Ukraine’s Svoboda all have proposed legislation or campaigned on dealing with “the Jewish problem.” Their success in elections can be attributed to the failure of European governments to define anti-Semitism and outlaw political groups that espouse it.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel in Europe has been laced with anti-Semitic terminology that also is being spewed by European parliamentarians. British Member of Parliament George Galloway recently declared a U.K. neighborhood an “Israel- free zone,” language that puts the British Jewish community in danger. When he says “Israel,” many hear “Jewish.” Attacks on Jewish communities cannot be justified by anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As such, we call upon Europe, as a first step, to define the meaning of “anti-Semitism.”
Ironically, a spokesperson for the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency stated in December 2013 that “we are not aware of any official definition [of anti-Semitism].” Adoption of an accepted pan-European definition of anti-Semitism will define the boundaries of hate. The EU Parliament should pass a resolution that accepts the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s 2005 definition:
Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
The proposed European Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance criminalizes “overt approval of a totalitarian ideology, xenophobia or anti-Semitism” across all 28 European Union member states. As an additional step, European Union member governments can also adopt legal recourse against the denial of the Holocaust and the distribution of anti-Semitic materials, and set up special investigative bodies to focus on the prevention of anti-Semitic attacks.
Efforts to end violence must be interwoven with policies that tackle conditions that lead to the scapegoating of minority communities, like abject poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic disparities.
To pressure Europe to act, United States foreign policymakers should consider specific goals, such as conditioning European government commitments to fight anti-Semitism as a negotiating point in international trade agreements with the EU.
This also is an opportunity for the U.S. to promote the idea that combating extremism need not be connected with policy toward Israel — that a government can have an anti-Israel foreign policy orientation and still condemn homegrown anti-Semitic sentiment.
The problem in Europe is endemic. It has been 70 years since the liberation of the concentration camps. In today’s enlightened age, life should be different. But, instead, we sadly find ourselves dealing with levels of anti-Semitism in Europe that are comparable to those of the 1930s. These efforts will encourage our lawmakers to work with their European counterparts and take steps to ensure that when we say “never again,” we mean it.
This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Skip Grinberg is chairman of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Gregg Roman is the council’s director.