No Room for Indifference on anti-Semitism

Actions speak louder than words, but nevertheless it is a welcome sign of change that the European Commission is holding its first annual Fundamental Rights Colloquium on October 1-2, 2015 in Brussels. Its theme is tolerance and respect, preventing and combating anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe.

The Colloquium is not simply an opportunity for a widespread discussion of issues. Participants, governments, political, civil, religious, and academic leaders, are expected to explore concrete ways to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred. However, it should be said at the outset that while anti-Arab and anti-black attitudes are contemptible and should be opposed, they do not have the same resonance as anti-Semitism.

The need is urgent. A 2013 EU Fundamental Rights Agency survey on discrimination and hate crime against Jews found that more than three quarters of those surveyed felt that anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitism on line, has got worse in the countries in which they lived. It is surprising that about three-quarters of Jewish people do not report anti-Semitic harassment to the police. More correct and accurate data on the perceptions and experiences of Jews is essential if corrective action is to be taken. A related problem is that the number of officially recorded incidents is so low that it is difficult to measure a long-term trend.

Evidence is clear that a worrisome increase in hate incidents concerning Jews has occurred in recent years. Some of the recorded data is as follows. Germany in 2014 recorded 1,596 politically motivated crimes with an anti-Semitic motive. France recorded 851 anti-Semitic actions and threats.

The evidence is disturbing. Based on figures of 2014- 2015, some 50 per cent of Europeans believe that discrimination based on religion or beliefs is widespread. Of religious groups, Muslims suffer from the lowest level of social acceptance, but anti-Semitism has been rising. The terrorist acts in Paris and Copenhagen are only the most dramatic demonstration that the phenomenon of anti-Semitism must be tackled urgently by official and social organizations.

Starting action against anti-Semitism should occur in a number of ways.

Laws on hate crime should be introduced and enforced. Hate speech, especially public incitement to violence and hatred based on race, religion, national or ethnic origin of people, has no place in democratic societies and should be penalized.

Official authorities, police, local authorities, prosecutors, and judges, should be trained and encouraged to enforce those laws. In view of the unwillingness or refusal of people to report harassment, there should be greater emphasis on the means to report discrimination and hate crime incidents. In this respect, social, educational, and media organizations should be helpful.

France may not, as the historian Andre Siegfried suggested, have introduced clarity in the intellectual world. But it is worth applauding France for its clarity in efforts to stem and overcome the increased anti-Semitism in the country. Gilles Clavreul, the French minister responsible for the fight against anti-Semitism and racism, himself the descendent of Greek immigrants, outlined in April 2015 the need for a national mobilization at all levels to fight the disease of hatred of Jews.

Anti-Semitic speech should be excluded from the provisions of the July 29, 1881 Freedom of the Press Act, that defines freedoms and responsibilities for the media and provides a legal framework for publications, and treated as common law offences and punished.

Two factors are important. The first is that in present-day society it is important to protect the users of the internet from the dissemination of anti-Semitic hate speech. Internet providers and companies have a responsibility to regulate the social network traffic, in part to protect ill-informed or misguided young people.

The second factor is that education and cultural process should explain accurately the past Jewish history and foster instruction in the values of democracy, tolerance and human rights. Those fashionable anti-establishment “leftists” who pretend to play the game of love of universalism or “communitarianism,” should not excuse violence against or hatred of Jews.

This educational process is particularly significant in light of the events and circumstances concerning the murder of a 23-year-old Parisian Jew, Ilam Halimi. On January 21, 2006 this young cell phone salesman of Moroccan descent was kidnapped, tortured for 24 days, and then murdered by a gang of more than twenty individuals known as “Barbarians,” mostly of African and North African Muslim origin. He was captured because he was a Jew and held for ransom from his family because the gang presumed that all Jews are rich.

In addition to the extraordinary brutality of the crime and the murder of Halimi, two things are important. One is that the French police, even after a number of riots and disturbances in Muslim dominate banlieus outside Paris had occurred, thought the kidnapping was an ordinary crime of violence and refused to accept that the crime was based on anti-Semitism, and hatred of Jews.

The second factor, which should be important for the EU Colloquium and all interested parties to consider, is that the crime was committed in the Paris suburb of Bagneux in an estate where 500 Muslim families live, some of whom must have been aware of the goings-on. All were indifferent and unwilling to disclose the obvious criminal activity to official authorities.

The EU, like everyone concerned, must make clear that civilized existence and a viable society requires both courage and vigilance in the fight against anti-Semitism, as it does in all things,

Adapting the remarks of Robert Jackson, then U.S. Attorney General on July 4, 1941, we risk much by indifference, and no amount of cautious behavior , no amount of polite talk, well win us the friendship of evil people.