The Justice and Home Affairs Council adopted unanimously last week a declaration on the fight against antisemitism and the development of a common security approach to better protect Jewish communities and institutions in Europe. Against the background of an increase in hate speech, violent incidents and terrorist attacks targeting Jewish people in recent years, the declaration lists a range of actions to ensure a future for them to live with the same sense of security and freedom as all other citizens in the European Union.
The Council calls on all EU member states to adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and fight all forms of anti-Semitism as part of their strategies on preventing racism, xenophobia, radicalisation and violent extremism.
The strategy includes measures to reinforce the protection of Jewish communities, to fight against hate crime, to promote education and research on the Holocaust, to introduce training about all forms of intolerance and racism, and to strengthen intercultural and interfaith work.
“We will combine our efforts at European and national level to ensure that Jewish Europeans can build a common future for themselves and their children in Europe, together with all Europeans,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner Vera Jourová (6 November).
“We cannot have a common fight without a common definition of what we are fighting against,” they added and referred to the non-legally binding working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in May 2016.
The Council declaration calls on EU member states that have not done so yet to adopt the definition as a useful guidance tool in the fight against anti-Semitism.
While the Council declaration recognizes that “freedom of expression as well as freedom of religion or belief constitutes one of the essential foundations in the construction of pluralistic and inclusive societies”, it also notes that anti-Semitism might appear “disguised under the cover of political views”.
“Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic,” says the definition and distinguishes between legitimate criticism and verbal attacks against Israel that might be fuelled by anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic stereotypes.
The list of such examples include denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, accusing Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, and applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Even in Israel, the borderline between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of government policy or trends in society has become blurred and journalists and public officials risk being accused of anti-Semitism or reprimanded for voicing their views.
When asked at a press briefing on Thursday in Brussels whether raising a question about boycott of goods from the occupied Palestinian territories would count as anti-Semitism, a spokesperson for the European Commission reassured the journalists that they can ask any question they like. “No question is off-limit.”
Whether they will receive a clear response is another matter. Hypothetical questions and questions concerning on-going legislation in member states or falling within their remit are normally not answered.
Questions concerning EU – Iran relations often fall into that category. It appears that the definition of anti-Semitism applies to Iran’s threats against Israel but the European External Action Service (EEAS), that is spearheading EU’s foreign policy and currently conducting talks with Iran, will not confirm it. That said, EEAS has recently condemned Iran for its threats against Israel.
The Brussels Times