The results of CNN’s recent survey of European attitudes towards Jews are appalling but, sadly, not surprising.
More than 73 years after the end of the Holocaust, one might have hoped that the populations that perpetrated, assisted in, or just stood by and watched the genocide of six million European Jews would have undergone a fundamental intellectual and psychological metamorphosis. Unfortunately, those of us who confront far-reaching antisemitism across the globe on a daily basis have long been aware of the reality that CNN’s investigation has laid bare.
As the Commissioner for Combatting Antisemitism of the World Jewish Congress, representing more than 100 Jewish communities on six continents, I regularly see the horrific consequences of hatred directed at Jews and Jewish institutions.
The recent chilling murder of 11 Jews attending Sabbath morning services by a white supremacist at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh truly shocked us, especially because this happened in the United States. But we have witnessed such horrors before. Earlier this year, Mireille Knoll, an elderly Holocaust survivor, was killed in her Paris apartment in an equally horrific hate crime.
We also must not forget the murder of a young rabbi and three Jewish school children, and the severe wounding of a teenager, in Toulouse in March 2012; the killings of four Jews outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014, and of four more Jews at the Hypercacher kosher supermarket outside Paris in January 2015; the February 2015 shooting at the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen, in which a young security lost his life; and the firebombing of a synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden, in December 2017.
And then there are the all-too-frequent attacks on Jews wearing yarmulkes or Stars of David, and the marches by neo-Nazis chanting antisemitic and other xenophobic slogans.
Small wonder, then, that more than a quarter of the Europeans polled by CNN believe that Jews are too influential in business and finance, nearly one in four think that Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars around the world, and one in five repeat the same antisemitic trope regarding the role of Jews in the media and in politics.
Even more disconcerting is the fact that more than a third of those surveyed know “little or nothing” about the Holocaust.
How can people be expected to evolve if they are steeped in ignorance?
There is only one solution: comprehensive, far-reaching education.
Strong, far-reaching actions and initiatives must be undertaken to prevent racially and ethnically motivated discrimination in school systems, as education undoubtedly shapes values and fosters understanding and behavior young people will uphold to when they reach adulthood. As we witness the rise in antisemitic attacks, threats, harassment and hate speech, younger generations must be taught that Judaism is one of the major world religions, including the importance of Jewish beliefs and ethics in the development of Christianity, Islam, and wider civilization; develop awareness of the role that Jews have played in history and the contributions they have made to European and other cultures; gain an understanding of the Holocaust in the context of the history of antisemitism; understand the basis for the creation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and develop a nuanced understanding of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors; and accept diversity and equality among all peoples.
We recognize the critical importance of moving from words to action. That is why the WJC is working closely with UNESCO on the UNESCO project, “Addressing Antisemitism through Education,“ in order to provide policymakers with unique knowledge, experience and perspective of the Jewish world on how grave antisemitism is, and why educating young generations represents a necessity and how to prevent it.
The WJC is also partnering with UNESCO on an international, multilingual website that will educate young adults about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the catastrophic consequences of ignoring or forgetting where unchecked hatred can lead.
The CNN survey must be a wake-up call for our society. It is only through education and a determination to face up to the past that we will be able to change the future and ensure that we can say “Never Forget” with confidence and “Never Again” with resolve.