7 September 2016, New York – Opening Statement by Joanne Adamson, Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, at the High-level Forum on Global Antisemitism
First, may I extend warm thanks to the co-sponsors of this event: the permanent missions of Canada, Israel and the US. The EU is pleased to be working with these partners and others on this critically important issue.
Antisemitism is on the rise. It is on the rise in Europe and it is growing elsewhere. It manifests itself through violence and discrimination. Through pernicious remarks directed at young boys wearing the kippah in public, through the defiling of synagogues and through deadly terrorist attacks, including those perpetrated in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, the Synagogue in Copenhagen and the Hyper Cacher in Paris. Europe’s long and grotesque history of antisemitism – which has resulted in the murder of millions and the exodus of countless people to other lands, including Israel – means that we must act decisively to tackle this resurgence. We must ensure that Jews feel safe wherever they live. The values espoused by the EU – and enshrined in our treaties –must be a reality for all individuals and communities. That means ensuring human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
I will consider briefly three elements that are critical to making all those values a reality in the daily lives of Jewish citizens: first, an accurate picture of the scale of the problem; second, an understanding of its root causes and third, a comprehensive response to it.
Turning to the first point: assessing the scale of the problem.
In terms of perceptions amongst Jewish communities in Europe, the trend is clear: in the 2013 survey conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, a pervasive fear of violence and hatred emerges: for example, almost a quarter of respondents said that they occasionally avoided Jewish sites or events because of safety concerns. Two thirds of respondents considered antisemitism to be a problem and three quarters believed that antisemitism had increased in the country where they live over the past five years. Hard data on trends is vital but is not always available. The EU is endeavouring to ensure that antisemitic crimes are properly recorded and the Fundamental Rights Agency has brought together the best available data from EU Member States, with a view to mapping longer term trends. The findings that emerge from such work are a call to action.
Second – root causes.
This is a complex issue and the root causes of antisemitism are many and varied – from entrenched stereotyping, to religious extremism and utterly misdirected responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When we look for explanations for antisemitism – so as to be better placed to tackle it – it is vital that such explanations do not morph into excuses. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphasised: “The conflict in the Middle East must not constitute a pretext for prejudice that could affect social peace and harmony anywhere.”
Third, taking comprehensive action to tackle antisemitism.
With antisemitism a deeply rooted and longstanding phenomenon in Europe, it is incumbent upon the European Union and its Member States to ensure an effective response to modern-day manifestations of such hatred. That is why the EU has introduced legislative measures to ensure a coherent response across the 28 Member States, in the form of the Framework Decision on combating the most serious forms of racist and xenophobic hate speech and hate crime which was adopted in November 2008. This requires Member States to ban public calls to violence and hatred based on race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin as well as hate crimes based on racist or xenophobic motivation, including antisemitic motivation. The measure also outlaws the denial of the Holocaust when it is done in a way to cause violence or hatred.
In partnership with key social media operators and IT companies, the EU has stepped up efforts to tackle illegal online hate speech, with a signed commitment by those companies to review – and if necessary to remove – such content within 24 hours. The far-reaching influence of social media means that such initiatives must be implemented rigorously – whilst also ensuring that the legitimate exercise of free speech is not impeded.
Addressing antisemitism through education in schools and in society as a whole is critical and must be comprehensive in its scope: children should be well-equipped to understand both the gravity of the Holocaust and the contribution made to our societies by Jewish people in all walks of life. May I pay tribute to the work of Professor Deborah Lipstadt and her endeavours to ensure that Holocaust denial is itself denied a foothold in public discourse. I pay tribute also to the work of numerous Jewish organisations to tackle prejudice and advance a positive agenda – including through interfaith engagement – at the local, national, regional and global levels. Jewish organisations and individuals must not bear this burden alone – countering antisemitism must be a truly collective and global effort. That is why the informal meeting of the plenary of the General Assembly to address the rise in antisemitic violence worldwide in January 2015 was such an important occasion. It is also why the EU is committed to working with partners worldwide to address antisemitism.
The appointment last December of the EU’s first coordinator on combating antisemitism, Ms Katharina von Schnurbein, is both a response to the rising threat posed by antisemitism and a substantial step in ensuring that the EU is well-placed to address that threat. Ms von Schnurbein will elaborate in more detail on the EU’s response during the panel sessions.
Today’s event brings together a broad coalition of participants – from government actors to private sector and youth representatives. Alongside our cosponsors, the EU looks forward to digesting the reflections and recommendations that you make and to taking forward steps to address this global challenge.
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