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Russia’s Ukraine invasion has ‘fueled’ online antisemitism, EU report finds

Hatred of Jews remains a ‘serious problem in our societies,’ says director of Fundamental Rights Agency, which warns Jewish communities are ‘profoundly affected’ by disinformation

illustrative: Russian soldiers guard an area as a group of foreign journalists visit in Kherson, Kherson region, south Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. (AP Photo)
illustrative: Russian soldiers guard an area as a group of foreign journalists visit in Kherson, Kherson region, south Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. (AP Photo)

VIENNA, Austria — Disinformation and hatred against Jews has “flourished” online throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, further aggravating a trend set in motion during the COVID-19 pandemic, an EU report said Thursday.

“The coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine further fueled” antisemitism, which “remains a serious problem in our societies,” said Michael O’Flaherty, director of the Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

A working group meeting in June had already highlighted “the risks of fake narratives” and disinformation stoking antisemitism, as Russia justified its war, launched in February, by misusing “terms such as ‘Nazi’ and ‘genocide'” to describe the government in Ukraine.

In its annual report, which was compiled this July, the FRA said that “Jewish communities across Europe” have been “profoundly affected” by online hate and disinformation in the context of the Russian invasion and the outbreak.

The bloc’s rights agency reiterated that “recording of antisemitic incidents remains poor across Europe,” with data collection and classification varying in each country.

No official data on recorded antisemitic incidents was available from two EU member states, Hungary and Portugal, making it difficult to meaningfully compare the situation across the bloc.

In some countries, such as Austria and Finland, “most recorded incidents took place online.”

The European Commission presented its first-ever strategy to combat antisemitism in October 2021.

Brussels is expected to publish reports on the implementation of its strategy in 2024 and 2029 respectively, also relying on FRA data regarding antisemitic incidents for their assessment.

On Wednesday, representatives from over 25 governments and international organizations met in Prague to participate in the World Jewish Congress’ Forum for Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Antisemitism.

The WJC said in a statement that it “outlined an aggressive agenda to increase efforts to rein in hate speech on social media platforms and develop resources to foster Jewish life in their respective countries.”

Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, who co-chaired the meeting, said “it is troubling that the hatred that we see online doesn’t remain there. We must direct our attention and resources to limiting its spread and the often-tragic consequences that follow.”

Julius Meinl, the World Jewish Congress’ Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism, warned that “the scourge of hatred that has been directed at Jewish communities for centuries… is not merely a threat for Jews, but all of our societies and for generations to come.”

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