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Never again? On contemporary Antisemitism in Europe

By Claire Fernandez, Deputy Director Programmes, European Network Against Racism

9 November 2017 - Despite ‘never again’ promises after the Holocaust, Antisemitism is clearly not a thing of the past. Harmful stereotypes and myths about Jewish people are increasingly materialising into deadly attacks, physical violence, hate speech, attacks against property, and the desecration of places of worship and cemeteries.

Today, I am writing about Antisemitism.

Because today is International Day against Fascism and Antisemitism, which commemorates the ‘Kristallnacht’ pogrom in Nazi Germany on 9 November 1938 and is seen as the symbolic beginning of the Holocaust.

Because yesterday my grandfather was the only survivor of his French Jewish family killed in Auschwitz.

Because yesterday my mother and her siblings were stoned by schoolmates who then were disgusted that they saw ‘Jewish blood’.

Because today on my way to work in Brussels I read ‘Junden Raus!’ (yes, they misspelt it) freshly written on a wall.

Because today a plaque in memory of antisemitic torture victim Ilan Halimi was vandalised and desecrated once again.

Because today football fans in Italy use Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s image alongside antisemitic slogans to attack their opponents.

Because today a mainstream hip hop song refers to ‘why Jews own all the property in America’.

Because today I read fake news explaining how Jews hold the key to economic success on my Facebook feed.

Because today a EU Member State can initiate an antisemitic public campaign against George Soros. Because today conspiracy theories are commonly used to explain how Jews/Israel are behind every attack or every crime.

Because many don’t recognise that antizionism may sometimes lead to Jews being directly or indirectly targeted by violence or abuse.

Antisemitic inscription on a wall in Brussels. Claire Fernandez The Community Security Trust in the United Kingdom recorded a 30 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents across the UK in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six months of 2016. In Belgium, the equality body notes with concern the 105% increase in antisemitic complaints it received in 2016. Despite the decrease in antisemitic incidents recorded in 2016 in France (compared to 2015, which saw a significant rise because of the Paris Kosher supermarket attack), many French Jews continue to experience daily harassment and violence. According to an EU Fundamental Rights Agency survey, Jews in Europe feel that Antisemitism has increased in the country they live in over the past five years (76%) and that they are increasingly afraid of being verbally harassed (46%) or physically attacked (33%). There is also a surge of online antisemitic hate speech, especially on social media, across Europe.

Despite ‘never again’ promises after the Holocaust, Antisemitism is clearly not a thing of the past. Harmful stereotypes and myths about Jewish people are increasingly materialising into deadly attacks, physical violence, hate speech, attacks against property, and the desecration of places of worship and cemeteries.

The red flags can no longer be ignored. It is high time to recognise that Antisemitism is deeply rooted in Europe and continues to prosper, across the political spectrum and across communities. It is pervasive and structural, as institutions have failed to provide redress for violence and discrimination.

States need to go beyond formal recognition of Antisemitism and adopt national strategies to combat Antisemitism. These should include measures to promote equality and diversity (e.g. meaningful and inclusive teaching about the Holocaust and contemporary forms of racism), to guarantee the security of Jewish institutions and people (e.g. by appointing a community liaison officer within criminal justice agencies) and to duly respond to criminal behaviour including incitement to hatred online. Such strategies could include definitions of Antisemitism, such as the one employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, in order to ensure a better protection for Jews across Europe.

All of us in Europe - governments, politicians, journalists, citizens - must take action and responsibility to combat Antisemitism, along other forms of racism, and curb attempts from some to pit communities against one another. Since I became a mum a few months ago, I have become more aware of my family’s personal history. And it has taught me that we shouldn’t underestimate the risks that Europe could relive some of its history’s darkest days.

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