Muslim migrants in Europe have so far not committed anti-Semitic acts, the European Union’s chief official responsible for fighting Jew-hatred said. At the same time, however, she called for the establishment of a “proactive” mechanism to transmit Western values to refugees to prevent anti-Semitic incidents from occurring in the future.
“We don’t see anti-Semitic violence from the refugees at the moment, thank God,” Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, told The Times of Israel during a recent visit to Israel. “But at the same time we do have to adopt a proactive approach in transmitting our values to them, from rule of law to democracy to equality of men and women, and also — no tolerance for anti-Semitism.”
Schnurbein quoted a survey published in July by the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, which indicated that two-thirds of rabbis and community leaders across the continent felt no significant increase in anti-Semitism over the past year. The survey did point to a slight increase in anti-Semitism especially in Western Europe, but that trend did not emanate from refugees.
While conscious of a moral imperative to help those in need, many Jews in Europe are concerned over the massive influx of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries where anti-Jewish sentiment is prevalent. In the German town of Ansbach, for instance, a Syrian asylum seeker blew himself up in an apparent terror attack last month, sending shock waves through a country that welcomed over a million refugees.
“Yes, we are alert,” Schnurbein said. “We develop strategies that address specifically the Muslim community — that is often done by Muslim organizations — but at the moment the data does not show a direct correlation between the refugees and anti-Semitic incidents.”
And yet, various surveys show that there is more anti-Semitism in Europe today than a few years ago. Why is that?
“Anti-Semitism on the right remains strong. It’s the traditional form of anti-Semitism. But we also see anti-Semitism on the left. It sometimes correlates with traditional right-wing anti-Semitism and sometimes we also see how it correlates with anti-Semitism from the Muslim community,” Schnurbein replied. “The fact is that these different extremes are mutually reinforcing themselves. That also leads to the feeling that there is more anti-Semitism.”
Another explanation for rising numbers is that more people report anti-Semitic incidents. “We used to have a huge amount of underreporting. It still is high, but people now see more the responsibility and usefulness of going to the police when something happens so it can be addressed adequately.”
A German national, Schnurbein visited Israel two weeks ago for the first time since the European Commission appointed her to her current post in early December. (The EU Commission a named a separate coordinator for combating anti-Muslim hatred, David Friggieri.)
During her weeklong stay, she visited Yad Vashem, addressed a session of the Knesset’s Diaspora Affairs Committee, visited several Jewish communities across the country and delivered speeches to various audiences, including the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.
“We have always said that the fight against anti-Semitism must not be left only to the Jews. It is a responsibility for society at large, a human responsibility,” Schnurbein said in an interview at a Jerusalem cafe. But the same is true for fighting hatred against Muslims, she added. “Although the two phenomena are very different, we cannot fight anti-Semitism successfully while at the same time neglecting Islamophobia.” If hatred against one group is left untouched it will “in the end always spill over” to the other group, she warned.
“We have to address hatred wherever it occurs, whichever minority or community it affects. But with the Jews it’s an age-old struggle and it can be life-threatening. Also, there are different forms of anti-Semitism and we need to address each one of them.”
Hate speech on the internet, for example, is one of the main areas in which the EU recently noted a worrying increase, Schnurbein said. “But the internet must not be a legal black hole. What is illegal in the real world is illegal online.”
Some EU member states have started taking online inciters to court, she added. In May, the EU Commission agreed on a “code of conduct” with Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, getting the companies to agree “to revise and remove illegal hate speech flagged to them within 24 hours,” she noted.
The recent terror attacks in European cities show that the security threats that have existed for a long time for Jewish communities now apply to society at large, she said. While Jews in Europe have grown used to living with security guards in front of synagogues and community institutions, increased terrorist threats are requiring similar precautions for government buildings.
“There has long been acknowledgment of the fact that it starts with the Jews… And now we’re in the process of fighting anti-Semitism, but it doesn’t stop there,” she said. “Security threats are no longer confined to the Jewish community; now society at large is targeted and with it our Western values.”