Benjamin Nägele: "Unfortunately anti-Semitism has increased in almost all EU member states"
EurAsiaAz interviews Director of European Affairs, B'nai B'rith International Benjamin Nägele.
- How do you assess the results of the work of B'nai B'rith in the fight against anti-Semitism in Europe in 2018? Is there anything to be proud of?
- We are trying to fight a worrying phenomenon that has unfortunately increased dramatically in the last years: Anti-Semitism is being perceived by up to 9 out of 10 European Jews as the most significant societal problem of current times, and anti-Semitic incidents and attacks are dramatically rising. Society at large must understand that Jewish communities, often constituting less than 1% of the overall population, have been the target of up to 1/3 of all hate crimes in EU countries. This is a very worrying development that we at B’nai B’rith with our members and supporters are committed to tackle. Jewish communities cannot be left alone with this overwhelming burden.
In 2018 B’nai B’rith has been hosting and participating in many high-level conferences at and with the European Union Institutions to raise awareness on the subject and is in close contact and exchange through our EU office in Brussels with high-level officials, European Parliamentarians as well as the current Council presidency, and we are proud to have reached and worked with more partners and supporters than ever:
Thanks to the efforts of Jewish umbrella organizations such as B’nai B’rith, several important decisions and declarations have been adopted in 2018 on the EU and national level, that hopefully will push further the fight against anti-Semitism and will urge EU member states to increase their efforts.
Be it the EU Council declaration on combating anti-Semitism that was adopted this month, the EU’s decision to join the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a permanent international partner, there have been several major efforts to oppose this worrying trend.
Last month alone saw two more EU member states, the Netherlands and Slovakia, adopt the crucial IHRA Anti-Semitism definition, a key document in the fight against anti-Semitism.
- Have any legislative acts been adopted in the field of the protection of the rights of Jews in European countries last year?
-We will hopefully see more legislative acts that will be adopted following the significant EU Council declaration, also related to the fight against terrorism online content, that the European Commission s working on at the moment. This is a crucial aspect given that online anti-Semitism and content advocating anti-Semitic terrorist offenses is one of the most urgent and increasing problems. The most recent legislative act that has been adopted on a national level this year is a new law in Romania based on the IHRA anti-Semitism definition that criminalizes the promotion and distribution of anti-Semitic ideas or materials, as well founding of organizations with anti-Semitic character. These can all be considered crimes that are punishable by imprisonment from 3 months up to 10 years.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised most European leaders for fighting anti-Semitism. In particular, he thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Teresa May, the head of the Hungarian government, Viktor Orban and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz. What can you say about this? Has the situation with anti-Semitism improved in these countries?
- Unfortunately anti-Semitism has increased in almost all EU member states. But so has the acknowledgement of the problem and commitment, especially from the mentioned European leaders, to tackle the problem and implement solutions. During the current Austrian EU Council presidency Chancellor Sebastian Kurz made the fight against anti-Semitism a priority, hosted a high-level conference in Vienna and an anti-Semitism declaration has been adopted thanks to the support of all mentioned EU leaders unanimously by the 28 EU member states. We have also seen the nomination of additional special Anti-Semitism coordinators in EU member states as well as on regional level and high-level conferences on the subject by several EU countries.
- In which countries of Europe is there a trend associated with a decrease in the number of cases of anti-Semitism?
- The European Commission has tasked the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency FRA to conduct a survey among 13 EU Member states comprising 96% of European Jewry. The results of this biggest ever conducted EU study are very worrying, and show dramatic increases in - and fear of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in almost all countries that the survey covers. Although Hungary shows the lowest amount of people who worry about becoming a victim of harassment or physical attacks, it at the same time has the second lowest assessment by the survey participants in their government’s ability and efforts to combat anti-Semitism. This shows that it is very important to look at the statistics in context and draw responsible conclusions.
- Recently, the European Union adopted the “Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism”. Please tell us about this declaration. How will this declaration affect the work of Jewish organizations in the fight against anti-Semitism?
We are very grateful for the Austrian government and chancellor Kurz and their dedication and commitment to combat anti-Semitism by making it one of the Council priorities during their half year presidency that came to and end last month. B’nai B’rith participated in the high-level conference of the Austrian Chancellery in November prior to the adoption of the anti-Semitism declaration, and has worked closely with member states and its council representatives on drafting the document. We commend the Austrian Council Presidency, but also EU Commissioner for Justice Jourova and her team for their efforts as well as the 28 EU member-states for adopting such a key document unanimously.
The declaration calls, among other things, to ensure security for Jewish communities, institutions, and citizens, to emphasize the importance of Holocaust commemoration and education, and to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism in the fields of law enforcement, education and training. It is of utmost importance for member states to follow and implement these important recommendations.
This declaration will also help and support our work advocating on behalf of our members and Jewish communities around Europe in raising awareness as well as showing concrete solutions to combat it. We have seen the same thing with the European Parliament resolution of June 2017. Although not having binding legal effect, it nevertheless has served as a guideline and helpful reference tool for Jewish communities and organizations such as ours to have a common understanding on the underlying issues as well as concrete measures that need to be implemented on member-state level to finally contain the spreading problem.
- What new tasks are assigned to your organization in 2019?
Romania will take over the EU Council presidency in the first half of 2019, and has already announced that it wants to continue the fight against anti-Semitism as one of its priorities. A follow up Council conference on the subject is already planned for February 2019, that B’nai B’rith will participate in. B’nai B’rith will also continue to support and cooperate closely with European Commissioner for Justice Jourova and her Fundamental Rights unit, and as advisory board member to the official European Parliament anti-Semitism working group. A crucial aspect in 2019, that BBI is engaged in, will be the implementation of initiatives, specifically in the area of education, as well as pushing for further special anti-Semitism coordinators on the member-state level, and have the IHRA definition adopted in further EU member-states.
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