Antisemitism Is an Integral Part of European Culture, and the EU Can’t Fight It Effectively
There has been an explosive growth in antisemitism since the beginning of the 20th century in many European Union countries. Occasionally, European leaders mention the problem and vow to fight it.
But more important than the EU’s fight against antisemitism in the past decades has been the massive immigration of antisemites from Muslim countries where the percentage of antisemitic citizens is among the highest in the world.
The EU Commission cannot claim ignorance in this matter.
Frits Bolkestein was the Dutch EU Commissioner from 1999 to 2004. He told me the following more than 10 years ago: “In the European Commission, I twice tried to raise the problem of the multicultural society and the risks of unlimited Muslim immigration. My colleagues … did not want to discuss it. I said to one Commissioner that they almost considered me a racist. He replied: ‘Drop the word almost.’”
In January 2019, the European Commission published its Eurobarometer 484 study, titled “Perceptions of Antisemitism.” This study contains data on perceptions of antisemitism among the citizens of all member states. The researchers found that 50 percent of the respondents thought that antisemitism was a problem in their country. These include 15 percent who consider it a very important problem. There is, however, a huge gap between awareness of antisemitism and effectively fighting it.
One important operational reason why the EU cannot fight antisemitism is the absence of an accepted definition of it. A second reason is that the EU has no common standards for incidents. Reliable statistics about antisemitic incidents, according to common criteria, are needed. There are even EU member countries that do not provide statistics at all.
Beyond operational reasons, there are two structural causes that prevent the European Union from effectively fighting antisemitism. Almost nobody in Europe who is not Jewish has dared to state the truth: Antisemitism is an integral part of European culture. The history of many EU member countries is characterized far more by the antisemitism interwoven with them than by democracy.
Antisemitism is many centuries old. While it has had ups and downs, it has never gone away in these European countries. Antisemitism is much older than the values — in addition to democracy — that the European Union considers to be fundamental: respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, equality, and the rule of law.
To fight antisemitism effectively, the EU must admit this upfront. It also must commission — from genuine scholars, not from antisemitism whitewashers — serious studies on the meaning of the ingrained aspects of antisemitism in European culture. This includes investigating the level of citizens’ agreement with the stereotypes of Jews and the antisemitic accusations against them.
And there is a second major structural reason why the EU cannot effectively fight antisemitism — because one cannot simultaneously incite against Israel, the only state with a Jewish majority, and fight antisemitism. This is why the EU does not want to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism that states that singling out Israel is antisemitic.
And the EU is guilty of this antisemitic singling out. One example is when the EU decided to label goods from the disputed West Bank territories, and not from any territories actually occupied by a variety of states. As jurists Avi Bell and Eugene Kontorovich have pointed out: “The EU does not have a general set of rules for dealing with occupied territories, settlements or territorial administrations whose legality is not recognized by the EU. Rather, the EU has special restrictions aimed at Israel.”
The UN General Assembly performs antisemitic acts by singling Israel out annually for condemnation in many resolutions. If one collects data on the voting records of many EU states on these resolutions, their major participation in this antisemitic process becomes evident.
For the EU to effectively fight antisemitism, it must first admit that antisemitism is ingrained in its culture, and also change its biased attitude towards Israel. From there, the way to effectively fight antisemitism is still arduous and long — but at least it will be a start.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.