The growing debate over antisemitism in Europe took a new twist this week after the authors of a study on antisemitism commissioned by the European Union accused the E.U. of burying their work for political reasons.
A professor at Berlin Technical University and one of the report’s authors, Werner Bergman, said that the E.U.-sponsored European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia had deliberately shelved the 112-page report since February because it concluded that Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups were behind much of the recent antisemitic violence in Europe.
“They are fearing that the report will discriminate against Muslim minorities and that this would show that the E.U. was siding with Israel,” Bergman said. “They put the blame on us because they can’t admit they buried the report for political reasons.”
Adding to the debate, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon declared this week in an interview with an E.U. newswire that the growing presence of Muslims in Europe was a threat to the Jewish community.
The E.U. is under pressure from lawmakers in Europe and America to publish the report.
“It is critical that E.U. leaders immediately release this report in order to effectively combat the rise of antisemitism in Europe,” Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, wrote on Tuesday in a letter to Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm. “Suggestions that the E.U. would suppress this report based on politics and in the face of growing hatred toward European Jewry are unconscionable.”
John Kellock, a spokesman for the racism monitoring center, vehemently rejected the charges, saying the decision to withhold publication of the report was prompted by the insufficient quality and scope of the work. He said the center would publish a more comprehensive report on antisemitism next spring.
“We don’t have a political agenda, and we don’t hesitate to designate the perpetrators of racist and antisemitic acts,” Kellock told the Forward. “We are surprised that the authors are now coming out with those claims, since we told them about the problems four or five months ago.”
The alleged shelving of the report was first reported on Saturday by the Financial Times of London. The news came a week after twin suicide bombings at synagogues in Turkey and the arson of a Jewish school in France led European leaders to vow new efforts to tackle antisemitism.
Jewish groups blasted the monitoring center, noting that while it had quickly produced three reports on Islamophobia in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it failed to fulfill a promise to produce quickly a report on antisemitism.
“This is just outrageous,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, who had pushed for thecreation of the monitoring center in 1997. “There was a decision to hide the truth and we want to know who took it.”
He and professor Bergman suggested that responsibility for withholding the report might lie within the European Commission, the executive arm of the E.U., which finances the center. Cwajgenbaum said he would raise the issue at a scheduled meeting on December 18 with Prodi.
The commission came under fire recently for its now- infamous poll that found that Europeans considered Israel the biggest threat to world peace. In the past three years, pro-Israel politicians have also accused the commission of refusing to closely monitor the use of European funds by the Palestinian Authority.
The controversy over the report comes at a time when Israeli officials are stepping up their pressure on Europe to address the issue of antisemitism. In his interview with EUpolitix.com, Sharon warned: “An ever-stronger Muslim presence in Europe is certainly endangering the life of Jewish people…. E.U. governments are not doing enough to tackle antisemitism.”
Cwajgenbaum took issue with Sharon’s statement, arguing that it was too simplistic. He said antisemitism in Europe was multifaceted, coming from traditional extreme-right circles and far-left groups as well as a radicalized Muslim minority.
“The vast majority of Muslims wants to be integrated in Europe. So this is a much too general description of the situation,” he said.
Between December 2001 and February 2002, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, known as the EUMC, published three reports on instances of anti-Muslim incidents and promised that it would quickly conduct a survey of antisemitic incidents, as well, Cwajgenbaum said.
The EUMC assigned the study to the Center for Antisemitism Research at the Technical University in Berlin, which has extensive experience in the field.
Bergman said that although he raised methodological concerns about the study, EUMC officials insisted that he complete it. However, he said, EUMC officials later raised more substantive concerns about designating Muslim perpetrators and asked the authors to avoid generalizations. Bergman said EUMC officials also expressed discomfort with the study’s broad definition of antisemitism, which included some anti-Israel behavior.
The researchers presented their initial findings to European Jewish community leaders in November 2002, and it was agreed that an ensuing report would be released in March 2003 at the latest.
After they handed the EUMC what they considered the final version of their work in February 2003, Bergman said he did not hear back from the center, fueling speculation that a decision had been made to bury the report.
Cwajgenbaum said he and other Jewish communal leaders had continually asked about the report and that he now feels the EUMC “was hiding the truth from us.”
Kellock denied the allegation, stressing that the researchers had only focused their work on a period between May and October 2002 and that it was deemed insufficient. He said the center would publish a comprehensive report on the full years 2002 and 2003 in the first quarter of next year.
He said the Berlin center refused to conduct the expanded study and that a decision about the authors of the study will be made soon.
An excerpt from the draft report obtained by the Financial Times stated: “it can be concluded that the antisemitic incidents in the monitoring period were committed above all by right-wing extremists and radical Islamists or young Muslims.”
In late July, Wexler and three other House members — Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democrats Tom Lantos of California and Gary Ackerman of New York — wrote to E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana, stressing the need for the E.U. to address the rise in antisemitism and asking for the release of the draft report.
Similar letters were sent to Prodi and to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the E.U.
In his reply to the lawmakers, Solana explained that the work would not be made public because “it did not meet the criteria of consistency and quality of data,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Forward. Prodi endorsed Solana’s conclusions in a separate letter dated August 12, arguing that there was “no complacency” toward racism in Europe and that the problem of antisemitism also applied to the United States.
On Tuesday, Wexler fired a letter back to Prodi, saying he was “extremely disappointed” by Solana’s response. He explained that one of the German researchers had contacted him and told him that the shelving of the report was motivated by political reasons.
Since the beginning of the intifada, Israel and its supporters have contended that anti-Zionism was a new form of antisemitism. Critics counter that this definition is too broad and is a ploy to stifle dissent over Israeli policies. In the exchange of letters with Wexler, both Prodi and Solana insisted on the need to maintain such a distinction.
In his letter, Prodi stressed the “importance of distinguishing between legitimate political expressions and criticisms of the policies of the government of Israel on the one hand, and antisemitism on the other. The European Union will not tolerate antisemitism, nor will it tolerate any insinuation that its policy towards the Middle East is driven by antisemitism.”
Bergman said that while not all anti-Israel activity is antisemitic, it often crosses the line into antisemitism and it is therefore inappropriate to regard the two as completely unrelated phenomena.