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Anti-Semitism in the European Union: Executive Summary

(Updated December 2003)

Alerted early in 2002 by worrying news on anti-Semitic incidents in some Member States the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) decided to commission a report on “Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the EU” covering the first half of 2002. The report is based partly on short-term information provided to the authors by National Focal Points (NFPs) of the EUMC, giving special emphasis to the period between May 15 and June 15. The NFPs are the contact points to national networks in the Member States reporting regularly to the EUMC within its European Information Network RAXEN.

In their reports the National Focal Points were asked to cover the following issues:

– Physical acts of violence towards Jews, their communities, organisations or their property;

– Verbal aggression/hate speech and other, subtler forms of discrimination towards Jews;

– Research studies reporting anti-Semitic violence or opinion polls on changed attitudes towards Jews;

– Good practices for reducing prejudice, violence and aggression by NGOs;

– Reactions by politicians and other opinion leaders including initiatives to reduce polarization and counteract negative national trends.

The situation in the EU Member States

The reports and our own investigations show that in spring 2002 many EU Member States experienced a wave of anti-Semitic incidents. They were tied to public discussion on the dividing line between legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy and anti-Semitic argumentation. This wave of anti-Semitism started with the “Al-Aqsa-Intifada” in October 2000 and was fuelled by the conflict in the Middle East and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11September 2001 , which triggered off a fierce debate on the causes of radical Islamic terrorism.

During the first half of 2002 the rise of anti-Semitism reached a climax in the period between the end of March and mid-May, running parallel to the escalation of the Middle East conflict, whereas factors which usually determine the frequency of anti-Semitic incidents in the respective countries, such as the strength and the degree of mobilisation extremist far-right parties and groups can generate, have not played the decisive role.

In the months following the monitoring period the sometimes heated discussions about the Middle East conflict in the public sphere and the media died down and the number of incidents decreased. In countries like Denmark, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland there are only a few or no incidents known for the period after July 2002. In some Member States like Belgium, France and Sweden anti-Semitic incidents, including violent attacks and threatening phone calls, increased again in September and October, but not that much as in the period monitored. Anti-Semitic leaflets, hate mail and phone calls were also reported for Germany and the United Kingdom.

This leads to the conclusion that the increase in anti-Semitic attacks was in this case set off by the events in the Middle East, a foreign event that however exerted a varying impact on the individual Member States. An exact quantitative comparison is not possible because of:

1) the difficult and varied classification of anti-Semitic incidents;

2) the difficulty of differentiating between criticism of Israeli governmental policy and anti-Semitism; and

3) the differences in systematically collating information about anti-Semitic incidents in the EU Member States.

While there is no common pattern of incidents for all countries, some similarities occur. But it must be underlined that some countries (such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) have a very effective data and monitoring system, and this is not the case elsewhere .

There are a number of EU Member States, namely Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Finland, where the Jewish communities are rather small and anti-Semitic incidents in general seldom occur. This was true during the monitoring period. At most, threatening letters were sent to the Israeli consulate or to local Jews. Portugal and Finland each also suffered one attack on a synagogue.

On the other hand, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK witnessed rather serious anti-Semitic incidents (see the respective country reports) such as numerous physical attacks and insults directed against Jews and the vandalism of Jewish institutions (synagogues, shops, cemeteries). Fewer anti-Semitic attacks were reported from Denmark and Sweden.

Other countries also experienced incidents of anti-Semitism. Greece suffered desecrations of cemeteries and memorials by the far-right . Anti-Semitic statements and sentiments often linked to Israeli government policy were found in the mass media and were also expressed by some politicians and opinion leaders. Spain, where the traditionally strong presence of neo-Nazi groups was evident suffered a series of attacks by people with a radical Islamist background . Italy showed a certain similarity with Germany; although no physical attacks were evident, there were threatening telephone calls, insulting letters, slogans and graffiti. From Austria no physical attacks were reported; and few verbal threats and insults. Anti-Semitic stereotypes in relation to Israel were to be found essentially in right-wing newspapers and amongst far-right groups.

In the public domain in Spain, France, Italy and Sweden, sections of the political left and Arab-Muslim groups unified to stage pro-Palestinian demonstrations. While the right to demonstrate is of course a civil right, and these demonstrations are not intrinsically anti-Semitic, at some of these anti-Semitic slogans could be heard and placards seen; and some demonstrations resulted in attacks upon Jews or Jewish institutions. In the Netherlands pro-Palestine demonstrators of Moroccan origin used anti-Semitic symbols and slogans. In Finland however, pro-Palestinian demonstrations passed without any anti-Semitic incidents. In Germany, and less so in Austria, public political discourse was dominated by a debate on the link between Israeli policy in the Middle East conflict and anti-Semitism, a debate in which the cultural and political elite were involved. In Germany and the United Kingdom the critical reporting of the media was also a topic for controversy. In other countries such as Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Finland there was no such heated public discussion on the theme of criticism of Israel/anti-Semitism (see country reports).

Perpetrators and kinds of anti-Semitic activities

For many anti-Semitic incidents, especially for violent and other punishable offences, it is typical that the perpetrators attempt to remain anonymous. Thus, in many cases the perpetrators could not be identified, so an assignment to a political or ideological camp must remain open. Nevertheless, from the perpetrators identified or at least identifiable with some certainty, it can be concluded that the anti-Semitic incidents in the monitoring period were committed above all either by right-wing extremists or radical Islamists or young Muslims mostly of Arab descent, who are often themselves potential victims of exclusion and racism ; but also that anti-Semitic statements came from pro-Palestinian groups (see country report Italy: public discourse) as well as from politicians (see country reports Germany, Greece, Finland, Austria) and citizens from the political mainstream (see anti-Semitic letters, e-mails and phone calls in Germany as well as in other countries). The following forms of anti-Semitic activities have been experienced:

– Desecration of synagogues, cemeteries, swastika graffiti, threatening and insulting mail as well as the denial of the Holocaust as a theme, particularly on the Internet. These are the forms of action to be primarily assigned to the far-right.

– Physical attacks on Jews and the desecration and destruction of synagogues were acts often committed by young Muslim perpetrators in the monitoring period. Many of these attacks occurred either during or after pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which were also used by radical Islamists for hurling verbal abuse. In addition, radical Islamist circles were responsible for placing anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and in Arab-language media.

– Anti-Semitism on the streets also appears to be expressed by young people without any specific anti-Semitic prejudices, so that “many incidents are committed just for fun”. Other cases where young people were the perpetrators could be classified as “thrill hate crimes”, a well-known type of xenophobic attack.

– In the extreme left-wing scene anti-Semitic remarks were to be found mainly in the context of pro-Palestinian and anti-globalisation rallies and in newspaper articles using anti-Semitic stereotypes in their criticism of Israel. Often this generated a combination of anti-Zionist and anti-American views that formed an important element in the emergence of an anti-Semitic mood in Europe. Israel, seen as a capitalistic, imperialistic power, the “Zionist lobby”, and the United States are depicted as the evildoers in the Middle East conflict as well as exerting negative influence on global affairs. The convergence of these motives served both critics of colonialism and globalisation from the extreme left and the traditional anti-Semitic right-wing extremism as well as parts of the radical Islamists in some European countries.

– More difficult to record and to evaluate in its scale than the “street-level violence” against Jews is “salon anti-Semitism” as it is manifested “in the media, university common rooms, and at dinner parties of the chattering classes”.

– In the heated public debate on Israeli politics and the boundary between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, individuals who are not politically active and do not belong to one of the ideological camps mentioned above become motivated to voice their latent anti-Semitic attitudes (mostly in the form of telephone calls and insulting letters). Opinion polls prove that in some European countries a large percentage of the population harbours anti-Semitic attitudes and views, but that these usually remain latent.


Some commentators discuss the possible influence of the mass media on an escalation of anti-Semitic incidents. The question at issue is whether this escalation was merely an agenda setting effect of the daily media coverage of the violence in the Middle East or whether the reporting itself had an anti-Semitic bias.

– The Jewish communities regarded the one-sidedness, the aggressive tone of the reporting on Israeli policy in the Middle East conflict and references to old Christian anti-Jewish sentiments as problematic.

– The country reports (Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden) list some cases of anti-Semitic arguments or stereotypes (cartoons) in the quality press, but only very few systematic media analyses are available. Anti-Semitic reporting can mainly be found in the far-right spectrum of the European press.

– One study of the German quality press (see country report on Germany) concludes that the reporting concentrated greatly on the violent events and the conflicts and was not free of anti-Semitic clichés; at the same time this negative view also applies to the description of the Palestinian actors. The report on Austria identified anti-Semitic allusions in the far right press.

– Observers point to an “increasingly blatant anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim media”, including audiotapes and sermons, in which the call is not only made to join the struggle against Israel but also against Jews across the world. Although leading Muslim organisations express their opposition to this propaganda, observers assume that calling for the use of violence may influence readers and listeners.


The Internet reflects a development observable since 2000, namely the networking of the extreme right via links with sections of radical Islamists, some sites from anti-globalisation campaigners and from the anti-American far left. Since the end of the 1990s there has been a dramatic increase in the number of homepages present on the web from far-right groups and parties, which quite often also have ties to radical Islamic fundamentalists. In addition, the Internet provides easy access to music from the far right, which glorifies violence and is often anti-Semitic. Sales and distribution centres for such music are mainly located in Scandinavia. Up till now, state organs have paid too little attention to the Arab language publications which spread anti-Semitic propaganda in European countries, whether through newspapers, audiotapes or the Internet .

Prevalent anti-Semitic prejudices

As almost all reports emphasise, Jews in the EU Member States are well integrated socially, economically and culturally, and as such the typical motives of xenophobia (fear of competition for jobs, housing and social welfare, linguistic and cultural otherness of migrants, external appearance) are hardly of consequence. Instead, the Jews are basically imagined to be a nationally and internationally influential group, allegedly controlling politics and the economy. Hence, anti-Semitism has other motives and a different structure from racism.

– The dominating assumption of contemporary anti-Semitism is still that of a Jewish world conspiracy, i.e. the assumption that Jews are in control of what happens in the world, whether it be through financial or media power, whether it be the concealed political influence mainly exerted on the USA, but also on European countries. This basic assumption is applied to explain very different phenomena. The Holocaust denial assumes a central role in European right-wing extremism. It is purported that the Holocaust has never taken place and that the Jewish side, exploiting their victim status, use the “Auschwitz lie” to apply moral pressure on mainly European governments (restitution, support for Israeli policies), but also to influence US policy towards Israel. Furthermore, the thesis of the “Auschwitz lie” naturally also negates the assertion that the foundation of the state of Israel was historically necessary in order to create a secure homeland for the survivors of the Holocaust and Jews in general. Precisely at this point, extreme right-wing propaganda becomes employable ideologically for radical Islamist groups in their struggle against Israel, for the victim status and Israel’s right to exist are challenged by the “Auschwitz lie”. Here a learning process has taken place in which “revisionist” thought has been adopted by some people in the Arab world. The influence of these ideas is supported by a number of Western Holocaust deniers like Jürgen Graf, Gerd Honsik, Wolfgang Fröhlich who fled prosecution in their homelands and found asylum in Arab countries, and last but not least by Roger Garaudy who was hailed as a hero throughout the Middle East when he faced prosecution by the French government for inciting racial hatred. Via Arab-language media (newspapers, satellite TV and internet) in Europe these notions reach a small section of the Arab speaking population in European countries.

– Following September 11, 2001, some hold that Islamist terrorism is a natural consequence of the unsolved Middle East conflict, for which Israel alone is held responsible. They ascribe to Jews a major influence over the USA’s allegedly biased pro-Israel policies. This is where anti-American and anti-Semitic attitudes could converge and conspiracy theories over “Jewish world domination” might flare up again.

– The assumption of close ties between the US and Israel gives rise to a further motive for an anti-Semitic attitude. Amongst the political left, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism are very closely tied together. Due to its occupation policy, sections of the peace movement, opponents of globalisation as well as some Third World countries view Israel as aggressive, imperialistic and colonialist. Taken on its own terms this is naturally not to be viewed as anti-Semitic; and yet there are exaggerated formulations which witness a turn from criticism into anti-Semitism, for example when Israel and the Jews are reproached for replicating the most horrific crimes of the National Socialists like the Holocaust. In the form of anti-Semitism it could be said that the tradition of demonising Jews in the past is now being transferred to the state of Israel. In this way traditional anti-Semitism is translated into a new form, less deprived of legitimacy, whose employment today in Europe could become part of the political mainstream.

– Israeli policies toward the Palestinians provide a reason to denounce Jews generally as perpetrators, thereby questioning their moral status as victims that they had assumed as a consequence of the Holocaust. The connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment lies in this opportunity for a perpetrator-victim role reversal. In particular there is an attempt by the right-wing to compare Israeli policies with the crimes perpetrated against Jews throughout history in order to minimize or even deny the guilt and responsibility of their own nations.

– The fact that the Middle East conflict is taking place in the Holy Land of the Christians has led in a number of countries to a revitalisation of anti-Judaist motives by church leaders, and confessional and some liberal newspapers.


The upsurge of anti-Semitic criminal offences and verbal assaults against Jewish citizens and institutions, but also against Muslims, indicates that joint action has to be initiated. This action should not be restricted to one area of society, but has to deal with a multitude of combined activities. Actions on the political level should be backed by sound data and information about the phenomena in question. The civil society has to be mobilized to establish dialogues, the press, TV and the Internet has to be addressed to report about ethnic and cultural groups in a responsible way. Also for large-scale sporting events, preventive measures fighting racist attacks have to be implemented.

We recommend that the EUMC requests state authorities to acknowledge at the highest level the extraordinary dangers posed by anti-Semitic violence in the European context.


• The EUMC should propose to the Member States to adopt the proposed framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia (COM 2001/664) as soon as possible and call on the Council of Ministers to ensure that it is amended to be as effective as possible to deal with reported incidents of anti-Semitism.

• The EUMC should propose to the European Commission and to the Member States that they consider a decision for police cooperation according to Article 34 of the Treaty of European Union, which shall bind all Member States to collect and disseminate data on anti-Semitic offences. This decision should also involve EUROPOL and EUROJUST.

• To achieve effective regulation of the Internet concerning racist propaganda, it is essential to extend the jurisdiction of European courts to include detailed provisions on the responsibility of Internet service providers.

Registering anti-Semitic incidents

• State institutions must assume responsibility for monitoring anti-Semitism in the individual EU Member States. These institutions should work in accordance with well-defined categories enabling them to recognise an anti-Semitic element within any politically motivated criminal offences they register, and to then incorporate them into their statistics.

• In some Member States racist attacks are not identified separately in crime statistics while others have at their disposal state-sponsored instruments which monitor and pursue anti-Semitic incidents. We recommend joint strategies for action to be developed, whereby those countries possessing years of experience in this regard should pass this on to the other Member States.

• In those countries in which racist and anti-Semitic incidents are already registered by the security authorities, a swifter processing and publication of the results must be ensured and not first presented – as in current practice – in the middle of the following year.

• There is a need to distinguish clearly in reporting between acts of violence, threatening behaviour, and offensive speech, and to make transparent government norms and procedures for registering and acting upon crimes and offences motivated by anti-Semitism. Only in this way can a genuinely comparative basis for incidents be attained for European countries.

Education and sport

• We recommend that the governments of the EU Member States still absent should undertake initiatives to become members of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, whose purpose is to mobilise the support of political and social leaders to foster Holocaust education, remembrance and research.

• We recommend that NGOs engage in initiatives of intercultural and inter-religious exchange and inter-religious dialogue, and cooperate in educational information campaigns against racism and anti-Semitism.

• National ministries of education should organise round tables and seminars on mutual respect and tolerance; all teachers in the EU should be required to learn about different religions and faiths, cultures and traditions; history books used in schools around Europe should be examined for prejudice, or one-sidedness.

• In the area of European football a whole series of initiatives have been started in the last few years, which combat racism and anti-Semitism in the stadiums. We recommend that these activities be encouraged and extended.


• We recommend that research studies should be carried out on anti-Semitic incidents in specific fields – e.g. sport, entertainment, public services - and placed in an overall European context in order to establish a comparative perspective on their occurrence.

• Across all Member States there should be implemented a coordinated programme of victim studies to overcome the problem of underreporting with regard to incidents of anti-Semitism.

• To date there has been no well-founded media analysis on how the European press exploits and perpetuates anti-Semitic stereotypes. We recommend the implementation of research studies to fill this gap.


• State authorities, academics and research institutions engaged with racism and anti-Semitism should establish joint committees at national and international levels to monitor anti-Semitism on the Internet. Through mutual exchange these committees should establish a basis for an improved recording and combating of racist and anti-Semitic developments on the Internet.

• Recent developments have shown that partly impeded or completely obstructed access to some homepages at least hinders the possibility of placing racist propaganda on the Internet. Thus private and state organisations should exert continuing pressure on large Internet providers to remove racist and anti-Semitic content from the net.

• The enormous potential of the Internet for educational purposes has not yet been recognised and utilised. We recommend that projects are developed to utilise the Internet far more in order to combat anti-Semitic and racist content with serious counter-information.

Sources: C.R.I.F. - Released by the European Jewish Congress