Hannukkah in June: Rededicating to the Fight Against Anti-Semitism

  • December 4, 2012
Remarks by Abraham H. Foxman
ADL National Director (as prepared)
to the European Union member-states' ambassadors to Israel
Tel Aviv, Israel, June 22, 2012

There are many topics I could speak about today, given the close and long-standing relationships ADL has with so many European governments, and with many of you personally, who are here in Israel, representing those governments. We could talk about Israel, the Palestinians, Iran, about hate speech, civil rights or education. We talk about all of these topics with European governments, here with you, and when we meet with your representatives in the US, and when we visit your capitals.

But today I want to talk about Hannukah.

Being posted in Israel, you know that Hannukah is usually in December. As you also might know, Hannukah means "dedication." While in December, we celebrate the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem to its holy purpose, today, I am asking you to re-dedicate your governments to the solemn commitments they all undertook in Berlin in April 2004, when they agreed to the OSCE Berlin Declaration. You are ambassadors from Europe to the Jewish State, but you all also represent states with Jewish communities. And the commitments undertaken in Berlin were, first and foremost, to protect those Jewish communities.

Central among them were three:

  1. To combat hate crimes
  2. To collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about anti-Semitic crimes and to make that information available to the public; and
  3. To promote educational programs for combating anti-Semitism.

I forewarned my friend, Ambassador Christophe Bigot, that I was going to focus on France in my remarks. What I didn't tell him, though, was that I'm going to talk about France as a success story.

Given the news over the past few months, it might seem strange to talk about France as a success story.

Almost exactly 3 months ago, on March 19, four Jews were murdered at a Jewish school in Toulouse by Mohammed Merah, a self-proclaimed radical Islamist.

On May 26 in Marseille, three Jews were assaulted by 4 men described as of North African descent, who yelled, "This is your Shabbat, Vive Mohamed Merah, F--- the Jews, Palestine will win". They punched two of the Jews and kicked one in the knee, causing a serious knee injury.

The following Shabbat, ten young men attacked three Jews who were wearing kippot on their way to a synagogue in Villeurbanne, a suburb of Lyon. The attackers yelled, "Dirty Jews! If we see you again, you're dead!" and hit them with hammers and iron bars. Two victims suffered head and neck injuries.

The Shabbat after that, an 18 year-old Jew was hit and had a phone stolen in Sarcelles, a Paris suburb. The attackers yelled anti-Semitic insults during the assault.

Since the murders in Toulouse, the French Jewish community's security agency, SPCJ, has noted almost 20 physical assaults against Jews. The number of threats and acts of intimidation have doubled compared to the same period last year. We and the French Jewish community share the concern Mohammed Merah is being lionized by radical Islamists and inspiring violence against Jews.

We know that the French government does too. When Interior Minister Manuel Valls spoke to the Jewish community in Marseille, he said that he completely understands the widespread anxiety and that it is legitimate.

So again, with so many attacks on Jews, why is France a success story? As worrying as these last 2-3 months have been, they need to be seen in a larger context. Over the past eight years, France has made significant progress in combatting anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic acts in France have been reduced from nearly 1,000 in 2004 to under 400 in 2011, due to important initiatives by the government and civil society.

This wasn't always the case. Beginning in 2000 with the second intifada and lasting through 2004, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in France increased dramatically. And for the first couple of years, the government reacted with relative indifference.

Then, in November 2003, a government committee to fight racism and anti-Semitism was created. In 2003 and 2004, hate crimes penalty-enhancement laws were enacted. In 2004, a new law on incitement in electronic media allowed the French government to ban Hezbollah's satellite TV station, al-Manar. In 2005, there was a sharp rise in prosecutions. Anti-bias education programs were also introduced.

Throughout President Sarkozy's term, he and many other French politicians at the highest levels made clear statements that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and that French Jews cannot be held responsible for Israeli actions. I think it's fair to say that President Sarkozy spoke out more forcefully and more frequently than any European leader.

But it wasn't just President Sarkozy. When the Toulouse murders occurred, we saw a tremendous response in France from many political, religious and civil society leaders. Both then-President Sarkozy and President Hollande suspended their campaigns and both went to Toulouse. Former Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, set up a temporary headquarters in Toulouse and said he was going to stay until an arrest was made. Muslim and Christian leaders joined Jewish leaders in denouncing the attack unconditionally. The street demonstrations of support for the Jewish community were large and clearly went well beyond the Jewish community. Just days ago, in response to the attack in Villeurbanne, a joint statement was put out by the Archbishop of Lyon, the President of Lyon's Regional Muslim Council, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, and the Chief Rabbi of Lyon, in which they condemned the attack, and called on everyone in the community to act with respect toward others.

The outrage against these attacks was clear, comprehensive, and highly visible.

We continue to see the same commitment by the current French government. Prime Minister Ayrault has spoken out, as has Interior Minister Manuel Valls now on many occasions, and Education Minister Geneviève Fioraso. We have encouraged President Hollande to do so as well, to make clear that fighting anti-Semitism is important enough to all the people of France for the President to speak out on.

Interior Minister Valls has not only spoken out, but it's important what he has said. In his speech in Marseille, he specifically noted the anti-Semitism from radical Islam. He spoke of anti-Semitism that "hides behind an anti-Zionist façade." And he promised that he would not allow into France any "so-called theologians who preach hatred of Jews, whether in harsh language or with smooth talk."

We see the energy and the action put into combatting anti-Semitism, but we also have proof of the success in the numbers. From almost 1,000 to under 400 incidents in 8 years.

Numbers are important. Without statistics, you don't have information. Without information, action is more difficult. But numbers aren't everything.

The UK is also a success story, though you wouldn't know it from the numbers. Since 2001, anti-Semitic incidents have risen, fairly steadily until today, excluding the big spike in 2009 that happened everywhere. The figures for 2011 were down from 2010, but the unmistakable trend over the last decade has been upwards.

In the case of the UK, we believe that the increase from 310 incidents in 2001 to 586 in 2011, almost doubling in a decade, is a result of better reporting rather than worsening anti-Semitism. Our understanding from friends in the British Jewish community is that progress is being made. The work that the Community Security Trust and the British government have put into getting people to report incidents, and getting police to better understand when a hate crime has occurred, and not just vandalism, is critical and also part of a success story.

In the UK, the government also has taken many actions to combat anti-Semitism. It was the British Parliament that provided an excellent model of parliamentarians documenting and challenging anti-Semitic attitudes and encouraging government action at the highest level through its All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. And the government responded with detailed measures that it had taken and planned to take in the future.

France and the UK are both fulfilling their commitments to track anti-Semitism, to fight anti-Semitism, and to educate against anti-Semitism.

In many of your countries, attacks on Jews or Jewish institutions are rare. But, absence of violence is not absence of hate.

We know this from the polling we do in Europe. ADL has been conducting opinion surveys in Europe, roughly every two years, for a decade. We ask questions that get at common anti-Semitic stereotypes, like dual loyalty and Jews and money.

Unfortunately, significant numbers of people continue to subscribe to classical anti-Semitic notions such as Jews having too much power in business, being more loyal to Israel than their own country, or "talking too much" about what happened during the Holocaust.

We looked at how many people agreed with three out of four such anti-Semitic statements, and got the following results in these ten countries, going from lowest to highest:

Netherlands – 10%, Norway – 16%, UK – 17%, Germany – 21%, France – 24%, Austria – 28%, Italy – 35%, Poland – 48%, Spain – 53%, and Hungary – 63%.

On average, pernicious anti-Semitic beliefs continue to be held by nearly one-third of those surveyed, more than double the level we see in the United States.

How do we change these attitudes? It's no secret. In the short-term, leaders – whether political, religious, or from civil society – need to speak out and make clear that anti-Semitism is simply unacceptable. There will always be anti-Semites, but they need to be kept on the outer margins of society. Condemning anti-Semitic acts and speech demonstrates that there is no place for hate in respectable societies. I'm glad to be able to give you two recent examples of such leadership.

On January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a right-wing extremist ball was held in Vienna and attended by Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. Thousands protested outside the venue, causing the event to be delayed. Mr. Strache compared the protests to the persecution of Jews during Kristallnacht. He also told other ball guests, "We are the new Jews." The trivialization of the Holocaust was outrageous and mocked the victims.

President Heinz Fischer was scheduled to give a state award to Strache for his 10 years of public service in Austria. But after those comments were reported, he stood up and he said "no." He said he would not hand that award to Strache and he cancelled the ceremony.

Hungary's recently elected president, Janos Ader, also demonstrated such leadership. Two weeks ago, the 90 year-old former Chief Rabbi of Hungary was accosted in front of his home in downtown Budapest by a man who shouted at him, "I hate all Jews!" The next day, President Ader made an eloquent statement, calling upon his fellow Hungarians to reject bigots as anathema to the nation, and he visited Rabbi Schweitzer at his home. The leaders of Hungary's main churches also issued a statement of support for Rabbi Schweitzer and against all acts of anti-Semitism.

The long term answer is, of course, education. Through education, we can and must teach our young people and others to recognize bias and the harm it inflicts on individuals and society. Everyone needs to learn to combat racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of prejudice and bigotry and to understand that as a personal obligation.

Now let me give you a recent example of a clear failure of education.

Last week, the New York Times wrote about Sweden's Twitter account, which has been given over to selected Swedish citizens for a week apiece. A guest tweeter, Sonja Abrahamsson, had, as the New York Times put it, "some odd questions about Jews." The questions she raised could have been phrased more politely, but they betrayed no anti-Jewish animus. Re-worded, her questions were "What is Jewish about Jews?", "Are Jews a people or is Judaism a religion?", "What causes anti-Semitism?"

She demonstrated well the unfamiliarity most Swedes have with Jews. Even where Jewish communities exist in Sweden – in Stockholm, Goteborg, and Malmo – most Swedes have likely never met a Jew. Regarding Jews, Ms. Abrahamsson is an empty vessel, waiting to be filled. That is an education opportunity.

Here's the education problem. The day prior to Ms. Abrahamsson's tweets, Sweden's largest circulation daily, Dagen Nyheter, published an op-ed in which it was argued that there would be less anti-Semitism if only the Jews, especially American Jews, would stop controlling international finance and the media for their own benefit and to the detriment of others. The author, Prof. Johan Galtung, claimed that Jews are acting in ways described in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which he acknowledged was a forgery, and he asserted that he should not be considered an anti-Semite for warning about this.

I can only hope that Ms. Abrahamsson was too busy tweeting to read the paper that day. She and the rest of Sweden were failed by Dagen Nyheter's editors, who gave a platform to blatant anti-Semitism. When top media professionals in Sweden either can't identify anti-Semitism or accept it as a legitimate argument, there has been a clear educational failure. And we should not be surprised when empty vessels are then filled with poison.

And it's not for lack of good will on the part of the Swedish government. Don't forget, it was Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson who initiated the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research in 1998. The parliament established the Living History Forum in 2003 to promote anti-bias and Holocaust education, including training teachers.

However, when the Living History Forum conducted a survey of teachers in 2007 to assess their knowledge of the Holocaust, just one in twenty knew that the Nazis murdered over 80% of the Jewish children in Europe.

Perhaps Sweden will become a success story too. Though, when you hear the mayor of Malmo say that neither anti-Semitism nor Zionism are welcome in his city, it seems there is still a long way to go.

Sweden, though, has succeeded in one area where too few others have. Sweden is one of only five OSCE members that collects and reports statistics on anti-Semitic hate crimes to the OSCE.

For the last three years, ADL has partnered with Human Rights First to produce a scorecard which rates the performance of OSCE member states in specific areas of monitoring and addressing hate crimes.

The report assesses the performance of states not based on where incidents occur, but by the policies and procedures they use to respond -- for which they have direct responsibility. This is an important barometer by which we measure the performance of governments. What we have found is a massive data deficit.

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency came to the same conclusion in its report on anti-Semitism, published just days ago: "A small minority of Member States operate official data collection mechanisms that are robust enough to provide a picture of the situation of antisemitism there: France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, Belgium."

Without this basic monitoring of anti-Semitic hate crimes, how can any government demonstrate that they are serious about addressing anti-Semitism? Without data, how can governments know the scope and magnitude of the problem?

The establishment of data collection mechanisms also creates a dynamic that highlights the issue of hate-motivated violence for policymakers and the public -- and prompts police training and outreach to community-based non-governmental organizations.

The obstacles to comprehensive data collection by police are significant. In many cases, reporting forms don't have a category for anti-Semitism. Also, the targets of hate crime can be reluctant to report these crimes to the police. Nevertheless, data collection is the essential jumping off point for prevention and response. Counting these crimes requires defining anti-Semitic hate crimes and training police to recognize and understand them. Where there is data, there is awareness; where there is awareness, there is action.

But not always. Another necessary ingredient for success is political will. And sometimes there are cases that seriously call into question the will to combat anti-Semitism.

Over a year ago, in March 2011, Uldis Freimanis, a well-known neo-Nazi in Latvia, called on Latvian TV for Jews to be shot and hanged from lampposts. Even though there is a law in Latvia against incitement to violence, Freimanis has not been arrested or charged. We have raised this issue with the Latvian government on several occasions, including in a meeting with Latvia's President Andris Berzins. Freimanis still walks free, unpunished for calling for Jews to be killed.

When we see such impunity, when we see neo-Nazi parties in the parliaments of Hungary and Greece, when we see continuing attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions across the continent, we know the promise of the Berlin Declaration has gone unfulfilled.

So, today I ask you and your governments to re-dedicate yourselves to that promise, to those solemn undertakings.

And if and when you do, you will find that tools are available. The OSCE has produced a guide to effective criminal law responses to hate crimes, from drafting legislation to implementing it. I'm proud that ADL was a member of the working group that assisted with its development.

Tools are also available for law enforcement training, another critical component to address anti-Semitic hate crime.

Governments should ensure that police and investigators have the necessary procedures, resources and training to identify, investigate and prove bias motives before the courts, and that prosecutors have been trained to bring evidence of bias motivations and apply the legal measures required to prosecute hate crimes.

For over a decade, ADL has partnered with the Austrian Ministry of the Interior to provide anti-bias training reaching all levels of law enforcement professionals. In 2008, hate crimes training was added to teach how to identify hate crimes and the importance of differentiating them from other crimes. These trainings are mandatory for police recruits and professionals throughout Austria. Austria's strong commitment to sensitizing its entire police force to issues of bias and bigotry to better respond to hate crimes is an area where it can claim success.

As I mentioned, education is the long-term solution to reducing anti-Semitic attitudes. ADL's core anti-bias education program, A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE, addresses diversity issues in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school communities. The program helps teachers to help students explore prejudice and bigotry, improve critical thinking skills, examine diverse viewpoints, and take leadership roles. More than 375,000 elementary and secondary school teachers - responsible for nearly 12 million students - have participated in A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE.

This is not meant to be a commercial for ADL, but to point out that the tools already exist for legislation, law enforcement training, and anti-bias education.

What's needed is political will and effort. That is your responsibility. Our responsibility is to praise those who have succeeded, to help those who are ready to make those commitments, to convince those who need convincing, and to expose those who don't care.

I want you all to be successful in combating anti-Semitism, both anti-Semitic attitudes and anti-Semitic hate crimes. It all starts with a decision to dedicate – or re-dedicate – yourselves, your governments, to making that success happen. I urge you to make that decision today.