The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on 30 April published a press release advertising an event to be held in its premises in Vienna the same day. With FRA research showing growing concern within the Jewish community regarding a rise in anti-Semitism, the release says the organisation aims to bring national and EU policy makers together with Jewish community organisations and civil society to discuss “how to combat this worrying trend.”

“Especially on Facebook there are many antisemitic and anti israeli comments with an antisemitic character. If you report them to Facebook, they respond almost automatically ‘it meets our standards’.” (Man, 55–59 years old, Germany)

Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism (page 23)

FRA mentions that in Austria:

  • “More than 7 in 10 people (73 %) considered antisemitism a ‘big’ or ‘very big’ problem.
  • 75 % of the respondents consider antisemitism has increased over the past 5 years.
  • The same proportion believes that the Austrian government’s efforts to combat antisemitism are not effective. Meanwhile, nearly two thirds (64 %) positively assess the government’s efforts to ensure its security needs.
  • Two-thirds of Austrian Jews (67 %) who might sometimes wear, carry or display items that could identify them as Jewish now choose to avoid doing so.
  • The Austrian Jewish community is less aware of laws forbidding discrimination based on ethnic origin or religion than the average of the 12 EU countries surveyed (78 % awareness in Austria compared to an average of 87% in the countries surveyed).”

Because of this, the meeting will discuss the security needs of Jewish communities, and how to improve data collection on anti-Semitism. It will also discuss Holocaust remembrance and education, although this seems less a practical consideration, than an automatic, political-correct response. On this topic, one of the speakers, Karoline Edtstadler, says that

“It is shocking to note that antisemitism not only persists in Europe after the Holocaust, but is even rising. It is our task to actively support Jewish life in our country and fight against any form of antisemitism. In Austria and Europe, there must not be any room for antisemitism. We will therefore target the youth and make the fight against antisemitism a topic in schools and education.”

FRA press release

Head of Representation Jörg Wojahn will give a presentation on the European Commission’s actions to fight anti-Semitism and the meeting will be chaired by the Austrian member of FRA’s Management Board, Dr. Peter Kostelka. The meeting’s opening will be by FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty, who is quoted in the press release as saying:

“The Fundamental Rights Agency’s survey on antisemitism in the EU shows that not only has it become normalised, but that it is getting worse. Only by working together to combat this highly disturbing trend can we achieve our aim of promoting and protecting the human rights of the Jewish community.”

FRA press release

The meeting takes the form of roundtable discussions under Chatham House Rule. As the FRA was very keen on mentioning and conveniently linking to its December 2018 survey (in 12 EU Member States, 16.500 individuals involved) Experiences and Perceptions of Antisemitsm, we had a good hard look at it.

Among the FRA’s findings are that 70% of respondents believe that government does not combat antisemitism effectively. More shockingly, that “people face so much antisemitic abuse that some of the incidents they experience appear trivial to them.” Almost 8 out of 10 respondents (79%) do not even report incidents, with the reason most given (in 48% of cases) feeling that it won’t make a change if they did.

“One other time, I was surrounded by a group of young immigrants right next to the synagogue. I got rid of them by giving them my money – and was ready to fight for my life. I was ready to die, and they gave up. But I was shaken afterwards. I did not report it to the police because I do not believe it was worth the effort when ‘nothing had happened to me’.” (Man, 60–69 years old, Denmark)

Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism (page 57)

There seems to be a reluctance in the report to discuss perpetrators. On page 12, for example, the report says:

“A comparison of the [2012 and 2018] surveys’ results shows that the categories of perpetrators of antisemitic harassment remain consistent, with certain categories of individuals consistently over-represented as perpetrators.”

Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism (page 12)

What these categories are, isn’t mentioned there, or anywhere else. And on the same page, it seems necessary to negate this conclusion:

“The normalisation of antisemitism is also evidenced by the wide range of perpetrators, which spans the entire social and political spectrum.”

Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism (page 12)

This seems to be language designed to soften the blow of the actual numbers, which seem to be very clear:

The reports itself specifies (page 53), that the categories can be combined and are not exclusive:

“While the category ‘someone with Muslim extremist view’ is reported often, respondents frequently selected it in combination with another category. In one third of the cases of antisemitic harassment, respondents chose it together with ‘someone with a left-wing political view’ (33 %); in one quarter, together with the category ‘teenager or group of teenagers’ (22 %).”

Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism (page 53)

Seemingly in response to these findings, the FRA opines that EU Members states should “fully and correctly” transpose an EU directive and Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia to national law. This to “ensure that effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties are consistently handed down to offenders.”

“One of the fundamentally biggest problems for Jews in Denmark is that we do not dare visibly show our Jewish identity in public, at school, at the gym, etc. for fear of antisemitic statements, unfortunately, in particular from our Muslim neighbours.” (Man, 35–39 years old, Denmark)

Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism (page 38)

That, however, cannot be the answer when the report itself finds 79% of respondents do not report even serious incidents. How do you fight antisemitism, if the perpetrators are those that you 1) see as victims of racism and xenophobia and 2) are your allies in the fight against racism and xenophobia? The EU has a serious blindspot here that no amount of transposing into national law, and no amount of “targeting the youth” or making things topics of education will solve.

Either the EU starts talking about the source of 30% of its antisemitic incidents, or it proves it is as morally bankrupt as its critics claim it is.