Michael O’Flaherty, FRA Director, opening remarks ahead of the presentation of the findings of the agency's second antisemitism survey at a joint European Commission and Austrian EU Presidency event in Brussels on 10 December 2018. *** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
State Secretary Edtstadler,
I would like to begin by thanking the European Commission and the Austrian EU Presidency for organising this event to release the findings of the Fundamental Rights Agency’s second antisemitism survey.
This survey reached almost 16,500 self-identified Jewish people in 12 Member States. It is the largest-ever survey of its kind conducted anywhere in the world. Methodologically, it serves as a faithful reflection back to us of views held within the Jewish communities of the European Union. And it makes grim reading.
Today we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is truly the Magna Carta of human rights, which I would normally illustrate by quoting from Article 1: all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. But I would instead like to single out a passage I found particularly relevant on this occasion. The preamble of the text states:
“…the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…”
For many Jewish people in today’s Europe, freedom of belief and freedom from fear remain distant aspirations. Seventy years on from the UDHR, and more than 70 years after the Holocaust, something like 30% of the Jewish community actively avoid taking part in Jewish events or visiting Jewish sites because they fear for their safety, and feel insecure.
What sentiment would any of us feel, if every time we gathered to worship as a community we passed heavily-armed police officers? If the only way to live full lives as the people we are depended on a level of security more commonly associated with war?
Recently, in Vienna, I visited a shop with beautiful outdoor signage written in German and Hebrew. When I remarked upon this to the proprietor, his reaction was immediate and visible: where initially he had been friendly and open, I saw him tense, becoming more withdrawn and suspicious of my—a stranger’s—motives. Granted, this is only one experience, but it seemed to me a clear manifestation of the fear in which Jewish people live.
Their fear is the understandable result of permanently high levels of antisemitism in the European Union. Almost 90% of respondents to our survey feel the problem is getting worse in their country. Though this is especially the case online, nearly 70% cite public places, the media and politics as too-common sources of antisemitism.
The outrage of antisemitism is so deeply-rooted in our societies, this “oldest hatred” so prevalent, that routine harassment is a part of everyday life. Almost as devastating as the serious incidents our Jewish friends and neighbours experience is the fact that almost 80% of them do not report them to police or other authorities, often because they feel nothing will change.
The results of our survey are further confirmation—if any were needed—that Member States must take immediate action, across a range of areas. We cannot accept as normal that almost 30% of our respondents have been harassed. Or that over one third of respondents have considered emigrating. These are people who were born and raised in Europe, and who are made to feel unwelcome in the only home they have ever known.
So what can we do to rise to this challenge? In the time remaining, I want to highlight four courses of action to improve the way we respond to the needs of our Jewish communities.
First, we need to cooperate better and more closely in developing and implementing truly effective plans of action to prevent and fight antisemitism.
Authorities and public bodies in particular—and here I include the Fundamental Rights Agency—must redouble their efforts to work with affected Jewish communities and civil society organisations to ensure that strategies are carefully tailored to the realities on the ground.
I am heartened to see so many representatives of the communities in the room today, and I ask that you continue to work closely with us. This is a crucial first step, and a potential avenue for rebuilding a climate of trust in the democratic institutions responsible for protecting all our people.
Second, we must listen and learn better. One of the lessons we learned most clearly from this survey is that even though laws to protect victims and to counter racism exist at EU level, they are not always correctly applied at the national level. This has real and painful consequences: Jews who experience racist abuse or harassment end up not receiving the support they need and deserve, and perpetrators escape sentencing.
Third, we should not view the problem as unique to a particular country or area. Antisemitism knows no borders. That includes places where the figures appear to be less terrible, which might be evidence that Jewish victims and other witnesses do not feel empowered to speak out and report incidents.
We thus welcome the appointment of coordinators on antisemitism within the European Commission and in some Member States, and strongly recommend that others follow suit. This could and should become a network for sharing best practices across the EU.
We must also look beyond Europe to find inspiration for our work. Which brings me to my fourth point: let us reinvigorate our attention to Holocaust remembrance. I recently visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and was struck at its innovative approaches to Holocaust education and awareness-raising activities. With so few survivors left to share their stories, we need to look at the global experience to find ways to make children and our societies more aware of this horror. That work will also include debunking the conspiracy theories and hate speech our children encounter on- and offline, as the Commissioner has emphasised. As we move forward with innovative strategies of Holocaust remembrance, I acknowledge with respect the work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The evidence I have presented to you today, as well as the data you will see, paints a shamefully grim picture. Still, I would invite you all to consider them more closely, for they raise important questions: Are we again living in a world where previously punishable behaviour is tolerated—if not condoned—by political leaders? Where the broader population is silent, if not indifferent, in the face of injustice? Last month, in commemorating the 80th anniversary of the pogroms against Jews sometimes referred to as Kristallnacht, Chancellor Merkel very eloquently illustrated how a similar process very gradually came to consume German society in the 1930s.
Against this historical background, we cannot treat these findings as we would an academic exercise. Antisemitism is an existential question for the European Union and its Member States—not only a violation of the rights of our Jewish brothers and sisters, but a stain on our societies. Failure to address it in all its many guises would constitute a failure of the European project.