Helsinki, March 18th, 2021 – “As the EU is rolling out an unprecedented vaccination plan against the corona pandemic for its 450 million citizens, there is still no vaccine in sight against the world´s oldest and most deadly virus, namely anti-Semitism”, ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell noted in his remarks at the European Report online event which aired on Tuesday night, March 16th.
Still, the EU coordinator against anti-Semitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, is pleased with the level of support that she is receiving for her work from the highest level in the European Commission, where the current President, Ursula von der Leyen, is personally engaged in the fight against anti-Semitism and has increased the budget for this important line of EU work.
Von Schnurbein was one of the panellists in the European Report which was organised as part of a national series of discussion and talks in Finland on the current changes in the Middle East, and was co-hosted by the European Coalition for Israel (ECI) and other Israel related organizations in Finland. The program, which also featured the Head of the Jewish Community in Finland, Yaron Nadbornik, revealed that the European Commission has taken legal action against the government of Finland for failing to implement the EU legislation on hate speech. The infringement procedure was opened in February. Von Schnurbein clarified that “EU legislation criminalizes speech which includes incitement to hate and violence when it is directed against a people group and based on race, colour, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin”.
Finland, which generally has a reputation for religiously following and implementing all EU regulations, has also failed to criminalize Holocaust denial, despite a unanimous EU Council resolution dating back to 2008.
Focusing on the situation for one of the smallest Jewish communities in Europe, amounting to less than 2000 people, Yaron Nadbornik shared about the challenges facing the Jewish community in Finland today. He acknowledged that his own generation has a more difficult time today in explaining Jewish life to the national authorities than the generations of Jewish communities have had in the past who fought in the Finnish wars and were widely respected for their way of life and their contributions to Finnish society.
“Today we have to repeatedly explain that circumcision and ritual slaughter are an integral part of traditional Jewish life whereas in the past this was widely accepted.” He compared the situation with bull-fighting in Spain and hunting in EU member states, which are widely accepted as part of the cultural heritage of the respective nations, whereas Jewish religious traditions are constantly being challenged in Finland and elsewhere in Europe.
At the same time as Jews are criticized for their historic customs and traditions, hate speech against Jews is also on the rise.
“While legal procedures against the perpetrators may bring them to justice, it can take up to five years to reach the Highest Court, which is both time consuming and ineffective”, he noted. “When you finally reach a verdict and the perpetrator receives a small fine, they simply reorganize themselves and start afresh”, he explained. Nadbornik thanked the European Commission for being aware of the problems facing Jewish and other religious communities in Europe and for holding the member states accountable for protecting all their citizens. Nadbornik, however, was quick to point out that Finland is in no way anti-Semitic but because of the lack of experience of anti-Semitic violence in the past the authorities today have difficulties identifying it.
Von Schnurbein confirmed how many Jewish communities in Europe are facing similar challenges as in Finland, and how the lack of security makes some Jews wonder if they even have a future in Europe. According to the latest EU survey conducted in 2018, up to 40 % of the Jews interviewed had considered leaving their home country during that particular year, since they did not feel secure. “When Jews no longer feel safe and secure in their own communities, we should all be worried, because what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews”, she observed.
While there is much that the European Commission can do to safeguard Jewish life in Europe, the main responsibility still lies with the member states which have a duty to protect all their citizens. She noted that “the European Union can do a lot, but at the end of the day it is up to the member states to implement the legislations”. She reiterated the fact that Finland has failed to ensure that Holocaust denial is treated as a criminal offence and that the European Commission has asked the government to come in line with European legislation.
But if this sense of commitment and responsibility does not ripple down to the grass-roots level among ordinary citizens, we cannot succeed in defeating anti-Semitism. “Everyone can and should stand up against Jew-hatred”, she concluded.