Is the European Union Combating or Whitewashing Anti-Semitism? | Opinion

As canaries in the perpetual coal mine, Jews can't breathe easily on either side of the Atlantic. In the U.S., the latest FBI statistics revealed that 62 percent of religion-based hate crimes in 2019 targeted just 2 percent of the population—American Jews. Even COVID-19 lockdowns didn't stop desecrations and arsons targeting synagogues across the U.S. and Canada.

Meanwhile, the European Union announced that in 2021, "Given the rise in anti-Semitic violence and hate crime, the commission will present a comprehensive strategy on combating anti-Semitism to complement and support member states efforts."

Not a moment too soon.

Even though there was substantial media coverage about anti-Semitism, the European Union has largely neglected the battle against the world's "oldest hatred." It appointed a middle-level executive, who made a valiant effort to address the problem, but lack of staff—only recently remedied—and her not belonging to the top of the EU establishment largely doomed her efforts.

The steady increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe reflects broader ongoing problems. For instance, initially Islamist terrorists focused their murderous attacks on Jewish targets. Thirteen Jews were killed in such aggressions in the new century, in France, Belgium and Denmark. Yet by now, the number of other Europeans murdered by Islamist terrorists are in the many hundreds. There were major killings in Spain, France, Belgium and the U.K. (well before Brexit), as well as smaller ones in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

Roiling anti-Semitic tropes and overt Jew-hatred spread across social media, 24/7. In the real world, such manifestations ranged from the poison pen and mouth of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party to historic carnivals that displayed floats of Chassidim awash with gold coins in Belgium and revelers dressed as Nazis marching past celebrants in Spain.

The Jewish community in Germany faces a three-pronged threat: from Nazis and far-right extremists, from Muslims incited by Iran and Hezbollah and, most recently, from a coordinated assault assisting the extreme anti-Israel "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" campaign by Germany's cultural elite. The lattermost was secretly guided for a year, in part, by a senior Foreign Ministry official.

We still hope that the EU will actually fight anti-Semitism, not merely publish statistics and hold conferences. Frankly, it has already run into a huge problem—one of its own making.

The EU's highest legal authority, the European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg, recently ruled that the Flemish government was entitled to prohibit ritual slaughter without stunning.

The ruling not only went against the recommendation of the Court's advocate general, but its motivation was based on a lie. The court asserted that it struck a fair balance between animal welfare and freedom of religion. Yet observant Jews and many Muslims are not allowed to eat meat of animals slaughtered after stunning. The Court's so-called "balanced judgment" was an affront to Jews and Muslims across Europe.

Armed policeman guards synagogue entrance in Vienna
Armed policeman guards synagogue entrance in Vienna HANS PUNZ/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Banning Jewish religious slaughter without stunning is an issue with more than a 100-year history in Europe. Its clearest anti-Semitic expression was Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933, when the Nazi government forbade ritual slaughter without stunning. Similar laws were later introduced by German-occupied countries during World War II.

The European Court of Justice's decision—perhaps out of lack of knowledge (serious scientists point to the fact that stunning is anything but a failsafe way to minimize an animal's suffering)—is directly in line with a Nazi-era policy. It may be anti-Semitic by sheer ignorance, but it is anti-Semitic nevertheless.

Anti-Semitism has been rampant throughout European culture for more than a millennium. If the EU wants to seriously combat anti-Semitism, then it cannot remain silent about the anti-Semitic decision of its highest court when it pertains to a core practice of Judaism. The EU must condemn its court's decision and find a way to undo it. Silence would necessarily doom the EU's commitment to fight the scourge of Jew-hatred.

One cannot deal fully with European anti-Semitism without focusing on Germany, which is also the dominant economic power within the EU. In the Simon Wiesenthal Center 2020 list of the worst global anti-Semitic incidents, Germany is mentioned in two of the top 10.

The reason is obvious. In this society, a mere 75 to 80 years ago, the then-governing regime had as one of its major priorities the outright genocide of the Jews. Even as major democratization efforts have taken place, the impact of what happened then is far too big not to leave some traces in contemporary German society.

That doesn't only mean that there are a significant number of extreme right-wingers, some of whom regret that Hitler didn't succeed in murdering all Jews. Anti-Semitism also expresses itself in many different ways. An important one is a mutation of anti-Semitism that projects genocidal Nazism onto the Jewish state of Israel. A study by the University of Bielefeld published in 2011 found that 48 percent of Germans believe that Israel intends to exterminate the Palestinians.

While similar beliefs are widespread in other European countries, in Germany they have an additional perspective. Germans know best of all Europeans what their grandfathers' generation did to the Jews. Falsely blaming Israel for intended genocide at a time when the population of the Palestinian territories continues to increase is an extreme act of moral perversity. It has been abetted by much of German media, including leading progressive outlets.

January 27 will mark 2021's International Holocaust Remembrance Day. For it to have any significant meaning, we hope it signals a real commitment to respect and protect living Jews—not merely stand in moments of silence for six million dead Jews.

Jewish organizations and concerned human rights activists will be monitoring actions, or the lack thereof, by the EU. Will its members finally unite to combat anti-Semitism, or will they whitewash away the hate behind the veneer of soaring rhetoric?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of Global Social Action Agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.