Commissioner Schinas fight against antisemitism

Strasbourg 06.10.2021 “I am not breaking any news when I say that antisemitism and Holocaust are a stain in Europe’s history. It is the darkest chapter in our history book. Other than the historical reasons, there is an increasing and worrying tendency of anti-Semitic attacks and sentiments across the EU” said the Commissioner Margaritis Schinas, coordinating the Commission’s work on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum, while addressing press in European Parliament, Strasbourg.

“Two years ago, on 9 October 2019, a gunman tried to enter the synagogue in Halle, Germany, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur – their holiest day of the year. After failing to breach the security door to the building – with 51 people inside at the time – he opened fire in the streets, fatally shooting two of our fellow citizens.

“It was not the only attack. We had previous attacks in Paris, Copenhagen, and in Brussels in the Jewish Museum.

“Antisemitism continues not only to be a burden of the past, but also a present, dreadful threat in today’s Europe.

“The Commission vowed at that moment to act. And today’s strategy is the first ever of its kind to deliver a clear commitment and comprehensive response in our fight against antisemitism.

“Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where I represented the Commission together with Vice-President Věra Jourová.

“One of the things we took away from this anniversary is that we have now: fewer and fewer survivors remaining amongst us. We cannot have the people who went through these horrors to share their first-hand accounts of the Holocaust.

“I am myself native of the city of Thessaloniki, where I grew up. It was “madre de Israel”, which was the biggest Jewish community in Europe with over 50,000 Sephardic Jews that were all murdered by Nazi troops, most of them in Auschwitz by the way.

“Preserving their legacy, ensuring that their stories remain alive and are accurately retold, finding new forms of remembrance is a responsibility that our generation now has to live up to – and a key component of this strategy.

“We also saw during the Covid-19 pandemic and successive confinements a resurgence of centuries-old conspiracy myths fuelling new forms of antisemitism online and an explosion of antisemitic online content: only in French language we have a seven-fold increase in antisemitic postings on social media accounts, and over a thirteen-fold increase in German language accounts.
“Beyond the online realities, our own research, mainly through Eurobarometer and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, shows even more worrying trends with nine out of ten Jews considering that antisemitism has increased in their country.

“Very worryingly 38% have considered emigrating because they do not feel safe as Jews in today’s European Union. All these are factors, elements and root causes that compel us to act. What we are putting today on the table in the Strategy is not only a reactive and protective shield for our Jewish communities, but it is also very proactive approach that would allow Jewish life to thrive in our societies. So it is not a defensive approach but very proactive approach to foster Jewish life in the EU.

“This response is structured around three pillars:
– Preventing and combating
– Protecting and fostering
– Educating and researching.
Let me take you very briefly into these three families of issues. I will only focus on the new things of interest.

On preventing and combating all forms of antisemitism: We aim to establish a Europe-wide network of trusted flaggers and fact-checkers, including Jewish organisations, so that we can step up the removal of illegal online hate speech and counter these narratives with effective rebuttals.

We will also cooperate with industry and IT companies to prevent the illegal displaying and selling of Nazi-related symbols, memorabilia and literature online.

On the second leg, on protecting and fostering Jewish life: I think the first priority there is the security of the Jewish communities. I do not want to see synagogues in Europe being guarded by police. We all know that most Jewish communities and civil society organisations have had to assume disproportionately themselves the costs of their own security. We are determined to assume this as a major public service initiative. We will work with Member States to improve that and will support through increased EU funding for projects aiming to better protect public spaces and places of worship. The next call for proposals will be published next year for an amount to 24 million euros.

We also want not only to protect, but to allow Jewish life to flourish as part of an inclusive and diverse EU. Despite the long-standing presence of Jews in Europe, people have remarkable little knowledge of Jewish life, traditions and Judaism. So we want to work closely with the Jewish communities to safeguard Jewish heritage, raise awareness and increase mutual understanding around Jewish life.

Finally, on educating, researching and the holocaust remembrance, which is the third key component of the strategy, we will support the training of educational professionals and policy makers on “addressing antisemitism through education. We will work much closer together with UNESCO and the OSCE to make this possible.

“We are also setting up a new network of Young European Ambassadors to promote Holocaust remembrance.

“We will support, this is another new idea, the EU funding to create a network of places “Where the Holocaust happened” in Europe. I am not referring only to the extermination camps but also to often unknown Jewish heritage sites, hiding places, or deportation points that are all over Europe and that our societies need to know of. Our aim would be to allow school students, practitioners and the general public to trace the continuity of Jewish presence in Europe over the centuries – facilitating visits, online and interactive learning.

“We also intend to invest significantly in research to fully understand contemporary antisemitism and the impact it has on Jewish life today. We have already supported the creation of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure with 25 million euros since 2010 but now we will propose the creation of a European research hub on contemporary antisemitism and Jewish life to strengthen multidisciplinary research across the EU.

“Finally, the EU will not be alone in this effort. We shall reaffirm our ambition to take the lead in the global fight against antisemitism, by stepping up our external action with international community, UN agencies, an partners across the world

“We will do that by supporting actions aimed at combating antisemitism worldwide and our EU external funds will not be misallocated to activities that incite hatred and violence, including against Jewish people.

“We want to reach out to all citizens. Antisemitism is not a problem of the Jews, but of the problem of the antisemites.

Fighting it is a responsibility for all of us.

“I want to be very clear, antisemitism is incompatible with everything that the European Union stands for. It is incompatible with human rights, with our values and with our way of life. In this strategy today, we push for a commitment to combat it in all its forms and to ensure a future for Jewish life in Europe.

“We owe it to those who perished in the Holocaust, we owe it to the survivors and we owe it also to the future generations.

“For Jewish citizens, Europe was a place their parents and grandparents had to flee. It is our duty to ensure that for their children and grandchildren it is a place where they are proud to belong”.

“I congratulate the European Union for presenting the comprehensive strategy for combating anti-Semitism and strengthening Jewish life in Europe.
This decision reflects a commitment not only to tackling the phenomenon of ugly anti-Semitism, but also to the safety of Jewish communities” wrote Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Jair Lapid on his Twitter micro blog, reacting upon the announcement of the European Commission.

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