First EU Colloquium on Fundamental Rights

Incoherent EU-policies prevent effective measures against anti-Semitism

Colloquium_2015Brussels, October 2nd, 2015 – The European Commission has held its first annual colloquium on fundamental rights by highlighting the rise of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred. The decision to combine anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in one and the same conference received both praises and criticism from the delegates. On Thursday First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans defended his decision by saying that “it is high time that both groups sit down and talk to each other instead of talking about each other”.  Timmermans acknowledged that the two phenomena are different in origin, history, manifestation and impact, but still believed that they needed to be tackled in the same colloquium.

Founding Director Tomas Sandell of the European Coalition for Israel was invited to the roundtable and was the only representative of a non-Jewish pro-Israel organisation. In his remarks he gave credit to Timmermans for acknowledging that “there are those who use anti-Israelism as a cover for anti-Semitism”.  He went on to state that “Zionism has historically been the solution to anti-Semitism and not the reason for it”.

Today the mere existence of a Jewish state is again being questioned by radical groups that call for boycotts of Israel. The same groups also hold a negative view of the Jewish people as such. In a separate written statement Sandell warned that “the European Commission risks undermining its own goals of preventing anti-Semitism by time and again singling out Israel and calling for the labelling of Israeli goods produced in the disputed territories”. The new directive is expected to be introduced any week now and is likely to give further fuel for anti-Israeli forces who like to see a ban of all Israeli products. In Reykjavik, Iceland, the city council recently had to backtrack from a decision to ban all Israeli goods after international outrage. ”The call for labelling of Israeli goods will only strengthen those forces who believe that Israel is the sole reason for the conflict in the Middle East and who turn against Jews in Europe in retaliation”, he wrote. He also reminded the European Commission of the fact that the rise of anti-Semitism in the Third Reich started with the boycott of Jewish businesses.

At the conference Timmermans announced his decision to appoint two coordinators with special responsibilities for following issues related to anti-Semitism and another one for Islamophobia.

Many Jewish groups have expressed their disappointment over the passive reaction by the European Commission to the terror attacks against Jewish targets in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen. While they acknowledge the existence of other forms of racism and xenophobia in Europe they fear that the European Commission is not addressing their real concerns.

At the colloquium Mette Bentow, one of the survivors of the terror attack in Copenhagen, shared her testimony of the trauma that it had inflicted on her young family. She openly asked if she has a future in Europe.

In his address President Moshe Kantor of the European Jewish Congress warned that the EU is not doing enough to prevent Jews from leaving Europe. Over the last years tens of thousands of Jews have left Europe to seek a safer home elsewhere. And today one third of Europe’s 2.5 million Jews are considering emigration. Whole areas of Europe are being emptied of Jews and not enough is being done, he warned.

In his written statement Sandell noted that “it appears as if the European Commission no longer acknowledges anti-Semitism as a specific problem that threatens the very fabric of European Jewry but simply refers to it as another form of racism and discrimination. When Europe faced its last peak of anti-Semitic violence in 2003 and an EU survey named Israel as the worst threat to world peace, the then European Commission President Romano Prodi called together a crisis summit to specifically tackle the rise of anti-Semitism. Eleven years later the new European Commission reacts to the same challenge by calling together a seminar to speak about anti-Muslim hatred, he noted.

Despite its critical remarks, ECI remains fully committed to working together with the European institutions to ensure that the threat of anti-Semitism is fully recognized and tackled by EU and the member states. It also notes the need for intercommunal dialogue and alliances between Jews and Muslims in facing common threats, such as the calls for the banning of male circumcision and ritual slaughter, but notes that the EU needs to do more make Jewish life safe and secure for future generations.