Discrimination and hate crime against Jews in EU Member States: experiences and perceptions of antisemitism

Address by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum to press conference launching the FRA antisemitism survey report, Vienna, 8 November 2013.
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Good morning, and welcome to FRA. You may have noticed the plaque as you came in describing the history of this building: built by a Jewish family in the late nineteenth century, it was confiscated by the Nazi regime in 1938 and restored to its owners only after 1946. So this building already has a story to tell about antisemitism and its effects.

But we are not here to talk about history; we are here to talk about the present. The survey that FRA is publishing today is the first ever to collect the perceptions of Jews themselves on fundamental rights issues such as antisemitic discrimination and hate crime across a number of EU Member States. The report covers responses from over 5,800 Jewish people in the eight countries in which some 90% of the estimated Jewish population in the EU live.

Reading the report, we can really see how important it is to talk to the Jewish communities in Europe today about their lives, their experiences and their fears. This is what human rights are all about – the individual.

So what do we see?

  1. 66% of respondents consider antisemitism to be a major problem in their countries; 76% say that antisemitism has increased over the last five years.
  2. 27% avoid certain areas in their neighbourhoods because they don’t feel safe there, while 38% often avoid wearing or displaying symbols that might identify them as Jews in public [see slide 1] and
  3. 33% fear they may become victim of physical assault over the next 12 months

The fears of violence or harassment are not always mirrored in real events: the percentage of respondents who had actually been physically attacked was far lower. But it is not the figures that are important; it is the fear. For example, one young Jewish woman told us:

"I probably wouldn’t wear a Star of David necklace or scarf... This kind of behaviour is partly paranoia on the part of the Jewish community – but unfortunately, nasty stuff does happen. I’d spend the whole time looking over my shoulder."

Because fear drains people’s strength, preventing them from living their lives openly, as each of us has the right to do. And that’s why we have to address the fear factor. 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.

Hate crime does lasting damage to entire communities, but such offences too often remain unrecognised, unprosecuted and therefore invisible. If a person is targeted just because they are Jewish, the entire community becomes afraid that they might be next. Or if a person suffers harassment because they are Jewish, they may be anxious that the perpetrator could return to inflict greater harm.

As another person told us:

"Yesterday a swastika was drawn on my post-box because of my name, and I did not have the slightest idea what to do."

Despite the shock of their experiences, few victims are able or willing to report their experiences. In the 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 [see slide 2].

This figure suggests to what degree we may be underestimating the extent of antisemitic violence and harassment when we look at official government data. We have seen from our research and many other studies that the magnitude of this ‘dark figure’ is similar for other forms of hate crime.

Therefore, measures must be taken to build the trust needed for victims to feel safe to report their experiences and these measures must be taken urgently. We cannot keep putting off the issue and denying there is a reality that needs to be addressed. This means advanced training for police, but also in municipalities; in the court system; and among prosecutors, who must be sensitised towards this kind of offence and above all how to deal with victims and whom to put them in contact with so they receive the help they need. Indeed, I would really like to see an increase in the number of reported hate crimes, because that would mean the police and the other authorities were taking it seriously.

In terms of combating antisemitism:

Most important is that there is no social acceptance for antisemtism. And here, public figures – politicians, but also other opinion makers – have a particular responsibility, and must take the lead. These people have easy access to media, to the big microphones, and must be especially aware what they are saying and what messages they are sending out to society.

One of the recommendations FRA makes in the report is that politicians and opinion makers "should clearly denounce and condemn [antisemitic] statements when made by others..." There is no compromise on antisemitism, no mid-way point. Only a rapid and definitive response will make clear that antisemitic statements are undemocratic and unacceptable.

A similar dynamic can be observed with antisemitism on the internet. Anti-Jewish sentiment online was considered the most serious manifestation of antisemitism in seven out of the eight countries covered by the report. I quote one of the interviewees from the survey:

"I feel that since going on Facebook, I have experienced more antisemitic comments in a few years than I have done throughout my whole life. This is very dispiriting, the speed at which hostile comments and misinformation can be passed around is frightening and leads to a sense of deep unease..."

Bullying, harassment and antisemitic expressions of hatred on the internet are proliferating, causing a lot of distress. That is why we are arguing that Member States should develop a list of good practices when writing on the internet to be included in school curricula, so that we can train our kids, talk to them about how to express themselves when they’re on the internet, on social platforms. We’re only at the beginning of learning how to do this, and our report will hopefully feed into that discussion.

Let me conclude with this slide. For me, this was one of the most dramatic findings, and sums up the levels of fear we’re speaking of. On average, 29% of respndents considered emigrating in the past five years, and in a few countries that goes up to over 45 %. [see slide 3] And for me this is a clear signal that there is a lot we need to do at all levels of society, from the very top political level, through the ministries, through people at the municipalities, to people at the local level, people involved in education, working in schools. All of us should read this report and ask themselves: “What can I do better?”

Thank you for listening.