An International Union Against Antisemitism in Europe

By Beate Winkler

Published June 27, 2003, issue of June 27, 2003.
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I was born in 1949 in the war-ravaged eastern German city of Dresden. My hometown, like relations among Europeans, had been reduced to rubble by the horror of World War II.

Two generations later, the European Union is building on its past to develop an effective model of integration. The seeds of European partnership, planted to prevent a repetition of two world wars and the horrors of the Holocaust, are blossoming into recognition, dignity and respect for cultural, religious and ethnic diversity.

But while the E.U. has made partners of former enemies, this reconciliation should not come at the expense of the memory of the past or of the need to act against current signs of ethnic-based hatred. All European states are obliged to face squarely the reported rise in antisemitic, racist and xenophobic incidents that have marred the landscape in recent years.

It was to address these problems that the E.U. in 1997 established the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. The monitoring center, known as the EUMC, is tasked with collecting and analyzing data on incidents of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia, and working out strategies for fighting the bigotry.

In endeavoring to ensure the security of all Europeans, however, the E.U. cannot be alone. As highlighted by last week’s conference on antisemitism held at the Vienna-based Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, ethnic hatred, racism, antisemitism and xenophobia are worldwide phenomena and strategies, and combating them requires a global commitment. The transnational nature of antisemitism and racism demands a concerted effort by all OSCE member states — including the United States.

From the research conducted by our Vienna-based independent agency, we know that collecting and comparing information on the phenomenon of antisemitism and racism in Europe is an evolving task. Data collection, recording and reporting on hate-motivated incidents differ widely among E.U. member states. To close the gap, the EUMC has been working to achieve agreement upon and implementation of a common definition of the phenomena. We are also supporting independent organizations that collect reliable and objective data; monitor legislation, policy and practice, and support victims of racists and antisemites.

The reports we have received from independent organizations monitoring antisemitism indicate that the phenomena has been more pronounced in certain E.U. member states, particularly France, Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

In France, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights found that 731 of the 992 racist incidents it recorded in 2002 were antisemitic in nature. In Belgium, the Forum of Jewish Organizations of Antwerp and the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism reported a variety of violent attacks against members of the Jewish community and their property.

In the United Kingdom, the Community Security Trust — an organization which provides security and defense advice for the British Jewish community and works closely with the Board of Deputies of British Jews representative body — compiled figures on some 310 antisemitic incidents in 2001.

In Sweden, the organized Jewish community in Stockholm reported 133 cases of antisemitism. Most antisemitic crimes involved incitement to racial hatred, harassment and threats directed against Jewish institutions and Jewish figures.

In the Netherlands, the Internet discrimination hotline “Meldepunkt” received almost 200 complaints of antisemitism on Dutch Web sites in 2001, and charges were brought against the authors of antisemitic texts on the Web site of an orthodox Muslim school.

The reports make clear that we must forcefully combat the antisemitic incidents in Europe. We must also be vigilant against the post-September 11 anti-Islamic sentiment in E.U. member states. In both cases, it is the symbols of “other” religions — synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and mosques — that are targeted by racist violence.

In fighting hatred and bigotry, the E.U. can take inspiration from former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who addressed last week’s OSCE antisemitism conference in Vienna. His city government’s implementation of data-collection methods and its proactive approach to a post-September 11 backlash against Muslim Americans can serve as a model for the E.U. in its fight against hate crimes.

The situation in Europe is now complex, influenced by issues of identity, fragmentation, social exclusion, globalization and tension in the Middle East. A recent Eurobarometer survey conducted by the EUMC found that the acceptance by Europeans of the principle of a multicultural society increased from 33% to 48%, but also found that the percentage of people who blame minorities for negative social developments increased from 48% to 52%.

The racist incidents and xenophobic attitudes raise questions about how Europeans will deal with cultural, ethnic and religious diversity in the future. Some Europeans are looking for simple answers to complex questions. And this can be exploited by extremist group and organizations on both the right and the left, of which Europe has known its fair share.

The E.U. and its member states are strongly committed to fighting against racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, and have demonstrated a determination to take action both at the national and European level. Both the E.U.’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and its Convention place prime importance on human rights, and two directives from Brussels against discrimination must by law be implemented by the end of this year. For its part, the European Commission, the legislative body of the E.U., directs a number of programs specifically geared toward combating antisemitism.

The creation of the EUMC is itself a sign of the E.U.’s commitment to tackle racism and antisemitism. Beyond reporting the negative developments, we are also working to highlight and promote good practices. We have made, for example, diversity education and intercultural education one of our top priorities. We have worked to make education about different religions, faiths, cultures and traditions mandatory for all E.U. teachers. We have compiled reports on discriminatory legislation and employment practices. And on the personal initiative of the E.U.’s commissioner of employment and social affairs, Anna Diamantopoulou, the EUMC has conducted a series of workshops and hearings on antisemitism and Islamophobia, as well as a synthesis workshop based on intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

Antisemitism sprouts up in new places and new forms, but often from the same old historical, religious, psychological and political roots. It is simply too easy to blame antisemitism in some European countries on the situation in the Middle East.

To combat racism and xenophobia in Europe, we need a new societal approach, one based on inclusion and respect for differences. Such an approach must look to our past, to a collective memory, to enable us to work toward a culture of respect and of healing.

Beate Winkler is director of the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, an independent agency of the European Union.

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