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Anti-Semitism in the European Union: Introduction

(Updated December 2003)

Alerted during early 2002 by news on anti-Semitic incidents in some Member States and also by information given to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) by the European Jewish Congress, the EUMC asked its RAXEN network of 15 National Focal Points (NFPs) to report on anti-Semitism and to monitor the anti-Semitic aggression, violence and attitudes in the Member States with a special focus on a one-month period (from 15th May – 15th June 2002). The EUMC also asked for examples of good practices implemented to prevent and reduce anti-Semitism.

The National Focal Points were asked to cover the following issues:

1. Physical acts of violence towards Jews, their communities, organisations or their property (cemeteries, synagogues, religious symbols etc) and also any measures seen as retaliation to other vulnerable groups, or ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities, or new types of victims:

Have any physical attacks (harassment, verbal abuse, violent acts, etc.) against Jews (or other people related to them) been reported (in the media, by Jewish organisations, by human rights/anti-discrimination NGOs, by the police etc.)? Please use the following categories as headlines: Arson; throwing objects and/or tear gas; physical aggression; theft and burglary; vandalism and disparagement; threatening intrusion; physical threat.

2. Verbal aggression/hate speech and other, subtler forms of discrimination towards Jews:

Have there been any verbal attacks against Jews in the media, in the public discourse, in politics? Are there any cases of incitement to hatred? Are there court cases to be reported? What about hate speech on the Internet? Please use the following categories as headlines: direct verbal threat; threats by telephone; insults; graffiti and anti-Semitic inscriptions; publicly distributed leaflets.

3. Research Studies reporting anti-Semitic violence or Opinion Polls on changed attitudes towards Jews:

Are there any new or recent reports done on anti-Semitic aggression or attitudes?

4. Good practices for reducing prejudice, violence and aggression:

Can you report of any good practice that has been successful in avoiding the increase of prejudice and violence towards Jewish people and other groups?

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

How has the government reacted to increased anti-Semitic violence? What have been the reactions of the politicians and other opinion leaders? Are there any institutionalized proposals and implementations to be observed?

Political Background

The reports of the National Focal Points and our own investigations show that in early 2002 several EU Member States experienced an increased number of anti-Semitic incidents. The wave of anti-Semitism reached a climax in the period between end of March and mid-May. But further examination shows that the increase of anti-Semitism had already 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 11 September 2001 , which triggered off a fierce debate on the causes for radical Islamic terrorism.

Into the summer of 2000 negotiations for obtaining a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict seemed to be taking a promising course. The failure of Camp David II and the “second Intifada” (al-Aqsa Intifada) beginning in late September 2000 marked however a turning-point. Reports on anti-Semitism from the year 2000 show a clear increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the final months of the year.

Besides the continuing media interest in the violent conflict in the Middle East, in 2001 the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Tolerance, which was held in Durban, South Africa between 31 August and 7 September encouraged anti-Semitism in an unexpected way. The Member States of the United Nations adopted a Declaration and Action Programme, which included demands for the recognition of a Palestinian state and the right of security for Israel, as well as the demand for the end of violence in the Middle East that would allow Israel and the Palestinians to continue the peace process. But at the same conference vehement anti-Semitic outbreaks took place, in particular at some meetings held between NGOs, which were directed against representatives of Jewish groups. “These attacks were fuelled by the heated debates at the meeting concerning the Israeli government’s practices in West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

A few days later the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon triggered off a fierce debate on the causes of radical Islamic terrorism, seen by many to lie primarily in the occupation policy pursued by the Israeli government and the pro-Sharon stance taken by the US. For the Stephen Roth Institute on Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv, the events of September 11 also enhanced the wave of anti-Semitic manifestations and violence.

In our opinion one cannot deny that there exists a close link between the increase of anti-Semitism and 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 reporting period.

Defining anti-Semitism

Many of the National Focal Points mention that in their countries the dividing line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli government was a controversial issue. The various political groups often have different opinions on the threshold where justified criticism ends and anti-Semitic argumentation begins.. In such a delicate situation it is advisable to study the results of social research and to look for appropriate definitions of anti-Semitism accepted by the research community. This also assures a sound level of impartiality. After a detailed review of existing literature we recommend the definition of anti-Semitism given by the well-known Holocaust researcher Helen Fein:

Anti-Semitism is “a persisting latent structure of hostile beliefs towards Jews as a collective manifested in individuals as attitudes, and in culture as myth, ideology, folklore and imagery, and in actions – social or legal discrimination, political mobilisation against the Jews, and collective or state violence – which results in and/or is designed to distance, displace, or destroy Jews as Jews.”

To specify the basic content of these hostile beliefs we refer to a summary given by Dietz Bering:


Jews are not only partially but totally bad by nature, that is, their bad traits are incorrigible. Because of this bad nature

- Jews have to be seen not as individuals but as a collective.

- Jews remain essentially alien in the surrounding societies.

- Jews bring disaster on their “host societies” or on the whole world, they are doing it secretly, therefore the anti-Semites feel obliged to unmask the conspiratorial, bad Jewish character.

With the help of the above definition the distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli government policy can be made in an easier way. From there allusions to or comparisons with Israel’s actions with the behaviour of the Nazi regime have to be viewed as anti-Semitic. Those who identify Israel and Nazi-Germany or see Israeli behaviour as the cause of anti-Semitism use these arguments for their own ideological interests. Also to be evaluated as a form of anti-Semitism are anti-Semitic stereotypes when applied to Israeli policy: for example: the accusation that there is a secret, world-encompassing Zionist conspiracy, the isolation of Israel as a state that is fundamentally negatively distinct from all others, which therefore has no right to exist, and negative historical recourses to ancient Jewish history, which is to point to an immutable negative Jewish character. All cases in which the Jews are made collectively responsible for the policy of the Israeli government represent a form of anti-Semitism. That means, the moment when criticism on Israel turns into criticism of Jews in general or Jews living in other countries has at least an anti-Semitic connotation.

This report analyses the current manifestations of anti-Semitism as far as it is possible so close to the time period under observation. It does not try to chart its history or analyse its historical roots in the countries concerned.

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