International Parliamentary Conference on Combating Antisemitism

FRA Director's speech from the International Parliamentary Conference on Combating Antisemitism in Berlin on 14th March 2016. ** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY **

Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

My sincere thanks to the organisers of this event, and to the German Parliament for hosting us. Let me first of all say that it is imperative we have such conferences. It is reprehensible that we continue to have a problem with antisemitism in Europe. But that is the reality we must confront, and this occasion helps us focus our understanding and our responses.

First, let us look at that reality. Not long ago, the Fundamental Rights Agency carried out a survey of Jewish communities in the EU, the first ever to collect the perceptions of Jews themselves on their experiences of antisemitic discrimination and hate crime. And we found that:

  1. 66% of respondents consider antisemitism to be a major problem in their countries
     
  2. 76% say that antisemitism has increased over the last five years
     
  3. 75% said that antisemitism on the internet was a problem

An important litmus test of whether the rights of a particular community are adequately protected is the level of fear among its members. And our survey showed that this level of fear is high, with 33% of respondents afraid they may become a victim of physical assault over the next 12 months. This figure rose to above 50% in some countries, an unacceptably high proportion.

Fear drains people’s strength, preventing them from living their lives openly, as each of us has the right to do. As with other forms of hate crime – and we should all be clear that antisemitic attacks are hate crimes – an antisemitic attack does not only affect one individual victim. It does lasting damage to entire communities. If a person is targeted just because they are Jewish, the entire community becomes afraid that they might become the next target.

FRA’s survey was published just over two years ago. But a lot has happened in that time, and it can be expected that the situation has not improved from the perspective of the Jewish community. That is why we have taken the decision to repeat the survey again soon.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One of the reasons FRA’s survey was so important, and why it has been cited so often in the media and elsewhere, is that data on the true extent of antisemitism in the EU has long been missing. A significant difficulty in combating antisemitism is the fact that so few EU Member States collect data on antisemitic incidents in any detail. This lack of systematic data collection contributes to gross under-recording of the nature and characteristics of antisemitic incidents. What is more, it also prevents policy makers from developing informed and targeted measures to tackle antisemitism.

Data collection is of course closely related to the need to identify and prosecute perpetrators of antisemitic acts. It is important to note in this regard that, contrary to popular belief, there is ample evidence to suggest that offenders are not all or even often members of extremist organisations. Anti-Semites come from a wide social spectrum, including people from the majority population as well as those with minority ethnic or religious backgrounds. This complex reality must not be forgotten.

We are not just facing a lack of official data, but also the overwhelming reluctance of victims to come forward. In our survey, we found that 76% of those who had experienced antisemitic harassment over the last five years did not report the most serious incident to the police or any other organisation, with the figure rising to 90% in one country.

We asked respondents why there is such hesitation in coming forward. Most people said they didn’t think it would change anything if they reported, while others said “it was not worth reporting because it happens all the time.” Another reason given was “I don’t trust the police.” These findings are shocking. There is a clear and urgent need to give victims the assurance that reporting their experiences will lead to recognition of their suffering, a sturdy investigation, the prosecution of perpetrators and the imposition of penalties on offenders.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite this worrying data, the situation is not without some significant achievements that should be acknowledged and on which we can build. There are numerous legal instruments to protect people against hate crime, discrimination and antisemitism at the level of the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the EU.

The right to human dignity, equality of treatment and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are universal human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In particular, Article 10 of the Charter lays out the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, while Article 21 prohibits discrimination, including on the grounds of religion or belief. Article 22 guarantees respect for cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

Beyond the letter of the Charter, the EU has also adopted solid non-discrimination legislation that protects people from hate crime and hate speech motivated by religious bias, including online and in the broadcast media. There is also protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the area of employment.

Alongside treaty and legislative initiatives, a sense of the Europe of values has also emerged. Today, despite multiple challenges, we have a certain sense of the ethical pillars of our society and of the conditions necessary to respect human dignity.

On a more practical level, FRA established a Working Party on Hate Crime in 2014 in direct response to a call from the Council of the EU for assistance to Member States in developing “effective methods to encourage reporting and ensure proper recording of hate crimes”. All EU Member States have a representative in the Working Party, as well as the Commission, the Council of Europe and ODIHR, whose experience and cooperation we much appreciate. One of the main outputs of the Working Party is a compendium of good practices, which will be published at the end of next month.

And I must say that many of these practices are as innovative as they are simple. In the Czech Republic, for example, the Ministry of the Interior is set to sign a memorandum of cooperation with 30 Jewish organisations and the police in just a couple of weeks’ time. This will facilitate a platform for cooperation, information exchange and transfer of good practices, with the overall goal of providing enhanced protection to buildings that house Jewish organisations. The Ministry also continues to provide funding to increase the security of Jewish property.

We also have encouraging information about activities in the area of education. In France, to give another example that will be contained in the compendium, the government recently announced a forty-point plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism. Among the flagship measures are a communication campaign to fight prejudice in the media, education to foster tolerance in sport and other extra-curricular activities, and the use of memorials and cultural establishments to fight racism and antisemitism.

However, far more is needed. The struggle against antisemitism must be unceasing. As I wrap up my remarks, I’d like to mention three areas that still need attention.

  1. Rights awareness: We need to fully implement the human and fundamental rights laws and regulations that are in place. This means building awareness both among the general public and Jewish people so they know their rights and can claim them. And it means that the duty bearers must rise to their obligations on every occasion.
     
  2. Strengthening education initiatives: Germany, with the heavy burden of its history, has done admirably in developing educational programmes for school pupils and adults. But good practices in education need to be rolled out right across the EU. The European Commission’s first Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, held last October and dedicated to preventing and combating antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe, found the role of education to be “crucial” in preventing discrimination and hatred, with schools offering “a unique opportunity to transmit the values of tolerance and respect” from an early age. I couldn’t agree more.
     
  3. Everybody’s responsibility: At the same time, Jewish communities must not be left alone to shoulder the responsibility of dealing with antisemitism, as if they were the problem. We thus have to ensure that the message of the utter unacceptability of antisemitism and our determination to prosecute rings out clearly in every corner of every state of the EU, and that we all accept our duty to combat it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to end by telling you about a visit I made recently to the Jewish Museum in Vienna. A small part of the museum is devoted to the Holocaust, and I was struck by a sign there that said “this display is small because it should not be here in the Jewish museum, but in the national museum.” This sign reminds us that the Holocaust and all attacks on Jews are attacks on the fabric of our shared society. They are attacks on all of us. This sign, no less, reminds us of the incredibly vibrant role Jewish traditions and culture have played and continue to play in our societies. Something which I, as a non-Jew, acknowledge with deep respect and appreciation. The struggle against antisemitism is our common struggle in pursuit of a European society in which we can all enjoy a common pride.

Thank you for your attention.