Working together to fight antisemitism in Europe

Michael O'Flaherty
Keynote speech delivered by FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty on 10 September at a German Presidency of the Council of the EU conference on ‘Working together to fight antisemitism in Europe: Structures and strategies for a holistic approach’. He addressed the panel that explored monitoring antisemitism and developing prevention measures.

Thank you very much indeed. My thanks to the German Presidency for not only the invitation but also for convening this very important event. Frankly, my friends, if Europe fails its Jewish community, the modern European project will have failed.

I also greatly welcome the topic of the panel this afternoon. Putting monitoring and prevention together; identifying, drawing attention to the nexus between them, and the Fundamental Rights Agency has experience of both. Let me turn first to monitoring, for our terms data gathering. We have a number of instruments of value and relevance here.

The first is the best-known, of course, the periodic survey on the experience of Jews in the EU, a survey repeated every five years or so, drawing information from members of the Jewish community regarding their experience. We last published the survey in 2018, we surveyed 16,500 people in 12 EU Member States and of course the story we then told is well-known. It is a story of discrimination, of harassment, of violence, of very low levels of the reporting of incidents. It is a story of young people being impacted worse than older people, it is a story of a disturbing number of people who feel the need or wish to emigrate from Europe.

The second of our data sources that we think is directly relevant and a very recent one is the results of the 2020 Fundamental Rights Survey. This is a survey of ours of the general population in Europe, and two questions concerned the Jewish community. “How comfortable would the respondent be to have a Jewish person as their neighbour?” and “How comfortable if a Jewish person were to marry into the family?” I would have to say, the responses were very diverse across the EU Member States.

A third Fundamental Rights Agency source is our periodic reporting on the impact of COVID-19 with regard to fundamental rights. In the five bulletins that we have published so far this year, we tell a story of a very uneven impact of the virus and responses to the virus, impacting particularly hardly on certain groups. The Jewish community is one such group. Take for example the experience of older Jewish people, who have been hit so very badly in institutional care. How many of the Holocaust survivors who are still with us were struck down by the virus. Our periodic reporting also tells the story of the myths and the lies that have been spread and propagated during this period against the Jewish community.

And the final data source I would refer to today is of course the report that we are launching in conjunction with today’s event. Our 2020 update of our report on antisemitic incidents, as reported to both official and unofficial sources across the European Union. In this report, published today, we also for the first time include information on what EU Member States are doing with regard to the call from the Council of the European Union to develop national strategies against antisemitism. We also contain information on how EU Member States are working with, are using the definition of antisemitism that has been proposed to us by IHRA, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Now, all of this data gathering by us, over the years, allows some general conclusions that I would share with you this afternoon. The first is that we have far too many methodologies to gather data on the incidence of antisemitism. The diversity of methodologies across Member States allows practically an impossibility of comparison country-to-country, and even within countries, sub-region to sub-region. And if we can’t do this comparative analysis, we are greatly hindered.

Secondly, it is a matter of great concern that some EU Member States gathered no data whatsoever on antisemitism.

Third, it is clear to us when we correlate the official figures with the experience of Jews, as captured in our periodic surveys, that the data that we have, including that published by us today, greatly understates the reality. Things are significantly worse than the data would suggest.

And finally, and this is closely related to what I just said, perpetrators by and large get away with it. Even when they, in their act, cross a line of a criminal act, we see far too little investigation and prosecution on an EU-wide basis.

Now, that last point brings me in my comments from issues of data gathering to prevention. Because one of the first important elements in a preventive strategy is the prosecution of perpetrators to make clear to those who would commit such acts that they will not get away with it.

Beyond issues of data collection and prosecution, I would like to focus this afternoon, briefly, on three important contexts for prevention. They have already been mentioned to a greater or lesser extent in the proceedings this morning. The first is the importance of adult awareness campaigns on antisemitism. We do not have enough of them in EU Member States. And here, I would like to acknowledge the important work of the CEJI, the Jewish Contribution for an Inclusive Europe.

The second, critical dimension of prevention is work in the schools, and let me again here at the outset acknowledge the important current work of the OSCE, as well as the work, including past cooperation with us, of Yad Vashem. We need to re-galvanise efforts in our schools.

There are many things we need to do. In the first place, we have to bring alive again effective education on remembrance of the Holocaust because as survivors die, tragically, there are fewer live testimonies to the horror. So we need to find new ways to talk, to think, to educate about the Holocaust. Secondly, and I am so glad this was mentioned this morning, we need as part of education to celebrate Jewish life. Now, I acknowledge that the school room can be a challenging, even hostile place to do education about Jewish life and the combat of antisemitism today, and here I would like to acknowledge the work of EuroClio, the European Association of History Educators, and I would flag their important upcoming conference on the topic, the necessary and very timely topic, of controversy and disagreement in the classroom.

And then third and finally, and briefly, of course we must pay attention to professional training and again, I believe this will get continued attention during today. I would like, while I am in Berlin, to acknowledge the important work in this regard of the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz.

To conclude, please allow me two general observations across all our efforts, be they in gathering data, in prevention, or in prosecution. The first is the importance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This is a very important initiative to help us all focus, be more targeted, be more specific, be ultimately of more value. The Fundamental Rights Agency is and will continue to use this definition and I would encourage you to put it at the heart of all our efforts. Secondly, and finally, may I ask that those of us who are not Jewish, that we spend less time working for the Jewish community, but much more time working with the Jewish community. It is only through a strong, respectful collaboration that we can be effective in our efforts. And however we work going forward, I would like to assure everybody participating in this conference of the continued dedication and high priority that the Fundamental Rights Agency will put to the eradication of antisemitism.

Thank you.