Nearly a dozen European countries are “insufficient” in their efforts to meet the challenges of anti-Semitism, a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found.
“Sadly, 2020 was another difficult year for global anti-Semitism” between COVID-19 unleashing an “avalanche” of anti-Semitic propaganda to physical attacks on Jews worldwide, said Gary Bauer, a commissioner with the organization, as well as president of the American Values think tank.
His comments came during an hour-long briefing on the just-released “Antisemitism in Europe: Implications for U.S. Policy” from the commission, a U.S. government body established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
“Even dead Jews were not allowed to rest in peace,” said Bauer, noting that Jewish cemeteries were frequent targets for graffiti and vandalism with headstones overturned.
The report examined anti-Semitism in 11 European countries—Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom—and sought to answer the fundamental question of: “Are Jews able to live openly and freely as Jews, in whatever manner they wish?”
The sizes of the Jewish communities ranged from 1,500 in Norway to 448,000 in France, and found that in 10 out of 11 of the countries featured efforts to meet the challenges of anti-Semitism remain “insufficient.”
The only country to avoid this designation and “exceed” efforts to combat anti-Semitism was Norway, which has a comprehensive national plan to combat the scourge, as well as sufficient funds for security measures to protect the Jewish community, among other positive measures.
According to Andrew Srulevitch, director of European affairs and assistant director of international affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, who worked on the report, there is “massive underreporting” of anti-Semitic acts in Europe. He pointed to a 2019 survey by the E.U.’s Agency for Fundamental Rights that asked members of the Jewish communities whether they had reported to the police or any other organization the “most serious” anti-Semitic incident that occurred in the last five years.
“In every country, the vast majority of victims had not reported the incident,” he said, adding that this is hugely “problematic.”
In France, for instance, which has a large Jewish community, it would seem as if they have a lower rate of anti-Semitism than other places with smaller communities, but the reason for their numbers correspond to incidents not being reported.
According to Srulevitch, Jewish leaders are also noting a reporting “fatigue,” as the Jewish community feels their reports are often not taken or treated seriously. That, he said, leads to less reporting—a “trap we have to avoid.”
He added that the Jewish community’s lack of trust in their local authorities is another “critical” issue.
Perhaps the one place where underreporting is not the norm is in the United Kingdom, where Jewish communal leaders have stressed the importance of reporting any and all incidents and acts of anti-Semitism to the Community Security Trust, which is devoted to protecting the U.K. Jewish community.
Battling the tendency to get ‘demoralized’
David Weinberg, ADL’s Washington director for international affairs who also worked on the report, noted that while the United States cannot go in and fix another country’s anti-Semitism problems, it definitely has a role to play in helping to combat it.
For instance, he said, the United States can provide European countries with training and best practices to combat anti-Semitism and counterterrorism. It should also urge every nation in the European Union to appoint a coordinator whose sole focus should be on anti-Semitism and not hate in general.
Also, said Weinberg, the U.S. Commission for American’s Heritage Abroad can play a larger role at calling out vandalism at Jewish sites like synagogues and cemeteries, and the congressionally approved and authorized Office to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism should be fully staffed as quickly as possible.
Among the report’s recommendations are that European governments wholly fund security requirements of Jewish communities, which Srulevitch noted is currently done in only Hungary, Norway and the United Kingdom; reform education to include positive portrayals of Jews and their contributions to the individual country and the world; and improve law enforcement’s handling of anti-Semitic crimes.
Acknowledging that not only Jews but all people can get “quite depressed and demoralized” at the “enduring nature of anti-Semitism,” Bauer tried to offer a bit of hope during the presentation when he noted that “it is important to take heart that the nations’ most known for their oppression of Jews are long gone.”