Shimon Samuels
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EU disowns the ‘EU working definition of anti-Semitism’

The European Union's designated racism watchdog says it has no such definition and no plans to create one

The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005, with input from many Jewish experts and organizations, released its “Working Definition of Antisemitism”. This had been first suppressed, and then delayed, by pressures to exclude the Muslim identity of much anti-Semitic violence in Europe in the wake of the Intifada.

The controversy contributed to the departure of its Director, Beate Winkler, and to a restructuring whereby the EUMC was reborn as the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

On 6 November, I protested to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, the current disappearance of the “Working Definition” from the FRA website, requesting it be immediately re-uploaded.

The 29 November response from the European Commission Directorate-General Justice, with responsibility for Fundamental Rights, was astounding in insisting “at the outset, that neither the Commission in particular, nor the Union have an established definition of antisemitism and that there is no policy to create one. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the FRA is an independent agency.”

The letter explained that “in 2005, the EU’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) had placed online a document entitled Working Definition of Antisemitism… Since then, various actors, mainly NGOs, have referred to this document as the EU’s definition of antisemitism… In all autonomy, the FRA retained this document online until recently, when it was removed together with other non-official documents.”

The points made by the European Commission are arguably inconsistent:

  1. If the EUMC is here characterized as “the EU’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia”, its successor, the FRA, is no less the “European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights.” Both were and are funded by the EU and the European Commission letter appears to speak on behalf of the FRA – hardly “an independent agency.”
  2. If, for over eight years, “various actors… have referred to the document as ‘the EU definition of antisemitism’”, why has the EU taken so long to deny it? Indeed, in that period, the “definition” has served as a reference point in German and Lithuanian tribunals, the United States Congress and State Department, the Canadian and British Parliaments, and especially for the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism. The EU has also gained credit and accolades for what has been perceived as an instrument for Jewish defense, which its Commission now disowns.
  3. The Commission also argues that “the FRA does not itself apply any particular definition” in its reports. Noone claims that it does, only that its founding predecessor—for which it carries successor responsibilities—did issue such a definition, which it now disavows.
  4. The European Commission also contends that “the FRA has no legal competence to develop definitions, but undertakes its work on fundamental rights on the basis of EU definitions and standards.” How is this possible, if the EU has no “established definition of antisemitism and there is no policy to create one”?
  5. A final indignity is the Commission’s conclusion – in drastic contradiction of its former reference to “EU definitions and standards”, claiming, “the FRA applies the terms racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance as developed and used by the Council of Europe.” This contention has the Brussels-based 28 member EU passing accountability to the Strasbourg-based 47 member totally unrelated Council of Europe.

As one of the NGOs that strove to achieve the “Working Definition,” despite its initial delays and antagonists, we consider its publication an achievement for the EU and an even more valid instrument today as anti-Jewish attacks increase across Europe.

Its removal can only comfort and encourage anti-Semites. Its return to the FRA website would be appreciated as the first step for European endorsement of what has become a vital arm in the arsenal against hate.

About the Author
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has served as Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, European Director of ADL, and Israel Director of AJC. He was born in UK and studied in UK, Israel, U.S. and Japan.
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