EU steps up fight against antisemitism

December 14, 2020

The European Jewish Association welcomes the European Council declaration on fighting antisemitism that reaffirms its commitment for a common security approach in Europe to protect Jewish life and make it more visible as part of Europe’s identity.
“We welcome the acknowledgement of the European Council of the Member States shared responsibility to actively protect and support Jewish life in Europe and the acknowledgement of the contribution of Judaism and Jewish life that have indeed considerably shaped European identity and enriched Europe’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage.  We look forward to working with EU institutions and national governments across policy areas as we continue the fight against antisemitism together,” stated EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin.
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The European Council welcomed on Friday a declaration on mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism across policy areas.

In its conclusions, the European Council condemned “all forms of attacks on the freedoms of expression and religion or belief, including antisemitism, racism and xenophobia, and underlines the importance of combating incitement to hatred and violence, as well as intolerance.”

The Declaration, which was approved last week by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, describes antisemitism as an EU-wide phenomenon and emphasises that the fight against it is a cross-cutting issue involving various levels of government and policies at local, national and European level.

The Council expressed its concern at the increase in threats to Jewish people in Europe, and the resurgence of conspiracy myths, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the increase in antisemitic incidents and hate crime.

It stresses that antisemitism has developed into various forms and must be combated with complementary public policies. Illegal hate speech and online terrorist content must be removed promptly and consistently by internet service providers. A strong and systematic judicial response to antisemitic acts is also necessary.

Education about the Holocaust, antisemitism and Jewish life remains one of the most important tools in preventing antisemitic prejudices. Sharing good practices to foster media literacy and awareness of conspiracy myths is also key.

The member states welcomed the European Commission’s decision to make the fight against antisemitism a priority, as well as the strengthening of the institutional basis for the coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.

The Declaration states that, “Judaism and Jewish life have contributed considerably to shaping European identity and enriching Europe’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage. We are grateful that 75 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life, in all its diversity, is deeply rooted and thriving again in Europe. It is our permanent, shared responsibility to actively protect and support Jewish life.”

“As a researcher on contemporary European antisemitism, I welcome the Council Declaration on the fight against antisemitism,” commented Lars Dencik, a Swedish professor in social psychology. “The appeal to fight antisemitism ‘in a holistic way’, i.e. across policy fields and member states, is highly relevant.”

“To organize systematic data collection and analysis of antisemitism across all member states would be most valuable,” he added. “To focus on the upsurge of antisemitic conspiracy myths appears also adequate and necessary. The point of actively protecting and supporting Jewish life and making it more visible as part of European identity is very well taken.”

The European Commission presented also on Wednesday a a new Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and boost the EU’s resilience to terrorist threats. Among others, the EU will step up efforts to ensure physical protection of public spaces including places of worship through security by design.

The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, confirmed at a press conference that special resources will be dedicated to protect churches, mosques and synagogues. “We are giving cities the means to protect open public spaces through good design and we are ensuring that we can respond quickly and more efficiently to attacks and attempted attacks.”

Preventing attacks by addressing radicalisation and countering spread of extremist ideologies online is important and the Commission proposes to adopt rules on removing terrorist content online as a matter of urgency. The same goes for antisemitic hate speech, according to the Council Declaration.

“Antisemitic hate speech, including public condoning, denying or grossly trivialising the Holocaust, is increasingly influential and is shared online often without any consequences for those who produce and/or disseminate it. Crimes committed online should be punished just as crimes offline are and must be adequately addressed by means of effective prosecution and other measures.”

The Declaration underlines that The Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law (2008/913/JHA) must be transposed and effectively implemented by the Member States, including for crimes committed on the internet.

New forms of antisemitism

Dencik, the researcher of antisemitism, is sceptical and thinks that it borders on wishful thinking to have global internet providers monitoring and removing hate speech on their platforms. He adds that somewhat unnoticed in the Council Declaration are emerging problems of “antisemitism in disguise” and “latent antisemitism” and refers to conspiracy theories and attacks on individual Jews and Jewish institution emanating from hatred against Israel.

The Declaration does mention that recent studies, for example by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), show that antisemitism in all its forms is increasingly prevalent in Europe.

Reaffirming their commitment to a previous Council declaration in December 2018 on the fight against antisemitism, the EU member states also referred to the non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

“We welcome the fact that 18 Member States have already followed up on the Council declaration of 6 December 2018 by endorsing the IHRA working definition as a useful guidance tool in education and training. Member States that have not yet done so are invited to join the other Member States and endorse the IHRA working definition as soon as possible.”

The borderline between antisemitism and legitimate criticism of Israel and its government is often blurred and has become politicized, including in Israel. “Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” says the definition and distinguishes between legitimate criticism and verbal attacks against Israel that might be fuelled by antisemitism and antisemitic stereotypes.

The list of such examples includes denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, accusing Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, and applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

The Commission has been forced to strengthen the fight against antisemitism almost every year. “The 20th century had many deseases. The only on that remained incurable is antisemitism,” Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in 2018. He criticised some EU member states for their identity politics. “If you choose identity policy, it will sooner or later refer to minorities and the first minority to be hit is the Jews.”

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Une association juive outrée par la représentation de l'étoile jaune à la manifestation contre les règles corona

La European Jewish Association a réagi outrée dimanche à l’étoile jaune représentée sur l’une des bannières de manifestants participant à la marche organisée dimanche à Bruxelles contre les mesures sanitaires prises par le gouvernement pour endiguer la propagation du coronavirus. “Il est difficile de dire à quel point c’est une erreur“, a déclaré le rabbin Menachem Margolin, président de l’association.
J’ai du mal à voir la similitude entre le fait qu’on vous demande de vous faire vacciner pendant une pandémie, -ou d’en assumer les conséquences si vous ne le faites pas- et l’extermination systématique de six millions de Juifs dans des camps de la mort, des chambres à gaz ou dans des fosses communes à ciel ouvert“, a déclaré M. Margolin.

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Cela me rend malade de penser que si peu de gens comprennent la douleur que de telles bannières provoquent, et que si peu de gens réalisent vraiment l’énormité et l’ampleur de l’Holocauste. À ceux qui ont défilé aujourd’hui avec une grande étoile jaune, je dis: ne faites pas ça. Peu importe ce que vous pensez des restrictions sanitaires, personne ne vous tatoue les bras, personne ne vous case dans des camions à bétail et personne ne veut que vous, votre famille et vos proches meurent. Tout d’abord, assurez-vous d’avoir les connaissances et de savoir ce que cette étoile jaune représente réellement“, a encore souligné le président de l’association
https://www.rtbf.be/info/societe/detail_une-association-juive-outree-par-la-representation-de-l-etoile-jaune-a-la-manifestation-contre-les-regles-corona?id=10892119

Blessing for the Jewish New Year from Rabbi Menachem Margolin

Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the year according to the Jewish calendar, We are now in the year 5778.

In Hebrew, Rosh HaShanah does not mean ‘the beginning of the year’ or ‘the new year’ but ‘the head of the year’. This means thatRosh Hashana should influence us for the entire year just as our head manages our body. 

Rosh Hashana is not being celebrated on the first day of the creation of the world according to the Bible, but rather on the sixth day of its creation. The reason for this is that on the sixth day of the creation of the world, Adam was created

In addition, we do not wish a happy new year or happy holiday but a ‘good year’ – that means that the entire year will be good. 

This is because Rosh Hashanah is the day that reminds us that as human beings, we all have a responsibility to make this world a good world. A world of moral values, kindness and charity. Not only on the day of Rosh Hashanah but throughout the entire year.

We live in a challenging times. The Bible teaches us that all challenges are given to us by God in order to strengthen us and reveal in us forces that are revealed only when a person is really capable of using them.

Just as hard work at a gym – those who go … it’s hard, but in the end it makes us stronger.

 The goal is to discover these forces and exploit them to make this world a good world.

Every year, when Rosh Hashanah comes – the birthday of the first person – each of us is obligated to make good decisions for the whole world.

On this Rosh Hashanah, we at eja started working on a large project that would bring people from all religions and backgrounds together and join forces to save lives in Europe. I call on each of you to take a few minutes and think how you can use your powers to make this world a world of  goodness and kindness.

Happy new year to everyone
 

‘Holocaust was a scam’ projected on Swedish synagogue during international antisemitism conference

(JTA) — Swedish police are investigating how the words “the Holocaust was a scam” were projected onto the main synagogue in Malmö while that city was holding an international forum on combating antisemitism.
The projection was seen on the Synagogue of Malmö and on other buildings in cities across southern Sweden on Wednesday night, the day of the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.
Police are handling the case as a hate crime, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported.
The Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group, claimed responsibility for the incident, according to Dagens Nyheter.
The conference had brought together heads of state and other prominent government officials from dozens of countries in a city known for its high rates of antisemitism.
Israel’s strikes in Gaza in 2009 triggered a wave of antisemitic assaults in Malmö, which had then over 1,000 Jews. Then mayor Ilmar Reepalu reacted by instructing the local Jewish community to distance itself from Israel, giving many the impression that he was blaming the victims.
The Jewish community in Sweden’s third-largest city has since dwindled down to around 500.
Despite Wednesday’s synagogue incident, Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Friday that she thinks the conference shows that “change is possible.”
“The fact that the conference happened in Malmö sends a message, that this sort of thing will not be accepted and will be confronted,” von Schnurbein said.
At the conference, she presented a new strategic plan for combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe, published by the European Commission on Oct. 5.
Although the plan does not include a stated budget, von Schurbein said, “it will tap into programs in various departments” and its “components will receive millions of euros in funding in the coming period.”
Among the goals of the plan is to set up a cross-European methodology for documenting and reporting antisemitic hate crimes.
On Tuesday, Jewish community leaders at a separate conference in Brussels complained that the EU plan was “not serious” because it does not address two issues that have alienated local Jews for years: bans on the ritual slaughter of animals and attempts to ban non-medical circumcision.
Von Schurbein said the plan does reference the ritual slaughter issue. Members states need to find “a fair balance between respect for the freedom to manifest religion and the protection of animal welfare,” the document states.
The EU Commission and her office intend to facilitate efforts to strike the balance, von Schnurbein said, and call on “EU countries to ensure through policy and legal measures that Jews can live their lives in accordance with their religious traditions,” she added.
“But when it comes to the document, the Commission is bound by the ruling of the European Court,” which in 2020 upheld the rights of states in Belgium to ban ritual slaughter.

‘Holocaust was a scam’ projected on Swedish synagogue during international antisemitism conference

Europe: Synagogues sold for next to nothing

In Eastern Europe, historic synagogues are sold for the price of a used car.

On a visit to the city of Slonim in Belarus, Ilona Reeves fell in love with a 380-year-old dilapidated building that used to house one of the area’s largest and oldest synagogues.
Reeves, a 40-year-old author who lives in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, is a Christian, like virtually everyone who lives in the country. And the synagogue hadn’t been operational since before the Holocaust, when three quarters of Slonim residents were Jewish. Virtually all were murdered by the Nazis.
Still, Reeves looked at the structure, which had fallen into disrepair after years of use as shops, and saw something she wanted to save.
On a visit to the city of Slonim in Belarus, Ilona Reeves fell in love with a 380-year-old dilapidated building that used to house one of the area’s largest and oldest synagogues.
Reeves, a 40-year-old author who lives in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, is a Christian, like virtually everyone who lives in the country. And the synagogue hadn’t been operational since before the Holocaust, when three quarters of Slonim residents were Jewish. Virtually all were murdered by the Nazis.
Still, Reeves looked at the structure, which had fallen into disrepair after years of use as shops, and saw something she wanted to save.

“Standing outside the Great Synagogue of Slonim, I felt how small I am, we all are, in the face of such architectural monuments and traditions they represent,” she said.
With money that she’d freed up by selling her apartment in Minsk — partly to buy the synagogue — Reeves bought the synagogue in December for about $10,000 from the Slonim municipality on the promise that she restore it. She was the sole bidder.
The Slonim synagogue is just one of a number of similar structures to hit the market across Eastern Europe in recent years, and Reeves is among a small group of people who have committed to their upkeep.
“Buildings, including old buildings, that used to be synagogues appear on the market pretty regularly in Eastern Europe, and for relatively affordable prices,” said Michael Mail, founder of the UK-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage, which helps restore historic Jewish structures across Europe.
“But there’s often a catch, which is that restoration is complicated and costly,” Mail added.
Reeves knows that firsthand. She is now working on raising $2 million for the restoration project, which she hopes will take a decade but some professionals have told her might go on for 25 years.
The city of Vitebsk, located about 130 miles farther northeast of Minsk, recently offered essentially for free the hollowed remains of the Great Lubavitch Synagogue — where the family of the painter Marc Chagall used to pray — to anyone willing to restore it.
In 2016, a coffee shop called Synagoga Café opened in the old synagogue of Trnava, Slovakia. A non-Jewish contractor, Si­mon Ste­funko, bought the crumbling building some years earlier, renovated it according to the city’s strict preservation requirements and reopened it as an upscale hangout.
Financially, creating Synagoga Café didn’t make any sense, Stefunko said. The renovations cost millions of dollars that the coffee shop didn’t begin to mitigate even before it was shuttered last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. But he did it anyway “so something would remain from the Jewish community here,” Stefunko said. “I think it’s beautiful.”
The offloading of restoration costs represents the latest strategy for managing a glut of historical Jewish structures that have fallen into disrepair since most of Europe’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Before the genocide, Europe had an estimated 17,000 synagogues. Only about 3,300 of the structures remain standing today. Among those, only 776, or 23%, are being used as synagogues, according to the Foundation for Jewish Heritage.
Most of the surviving synagogues are located in Eastern Europe, where most of the structures that remained standing were nationalized following World War II by communist authorities who were anti-religious and often anti-Semitic.
Decimated by the Holocaust and the wave of emigration that followed the fall of communism, Jewish communities in places like Slonim and Vitebsk had virtually disappeared, leaving their former institutions in government hands.
In Belarus, which has a dictatorship with no laws for restitution of confiscated Jewish property, many of these structures were listed for protection by local authorities that lack the resources to restore them.
Making structural changes to buildings that are listed for protection is difficult and often illegal, requiring special permission from the state or municipality. The protected status often brings down the market price of the buildings because developers have no way of turning a profit by purchasing them.
But many buildings that had housed historical synagogues in Eastern Europe are not listed, meaning once they are sold to private owners they can be altered and even demolished.
The former Great Synagogue in the small town of Ostrino, in western Belarus, is on sale in an auction where the minimum bid is about $40. The new owner will face some requirements to preserve it, but may use parts as a warehouse or residential unit.
And in 2019, a 19th-century building that once was a synagogue in the village of Porazava, near Slonim, was sold for $6,000 to be used as a warehouse.
Similar situations occur also in Western Europe. In 2018, a 200-year-old synagogue in the city of Deventer, in the eastern Netherlands, became a restaurant after its upkeep became unaffordable to the local community, which includes a handful Jews.
Local governments in Eastern Europe have given back many properties that communist regimes had confiscated from Christian and Jewish faith communities.
Christian communities have been able to reclaim, restore or trade up many of the structures returned to them, sometimes with funding from the Vatican and the Orthodox Church.
Similar movement has also happened with some properties given back to local Jews, though with far less deep pockets of support.
In 2002, the municipality of Babruisk in eastern Belarus handed back to the local Jewish community a former synagogue that had been used as an army warehouse and later a tailor shop. The building, the only one of the city’s 42 synagogues still standing, was restored and inaugurated as a synagogue thanks to the fundraising efforts of an energetic local rabbi, Shaul Hababo.
In Moldova, Rabbi Shimshon Izakson is hoping to pull off a similar transformation at the former Rabbi Yehuda Ţirilson yeshiva and synagogue compound — a massive complex in downtown Chisinau that is so dilapidated that only the external walls remain.
But other times, Jewish communities that inherited historic former synagogues stolen from them when they were much larger were not able or willing to preserve them to the satisfaction of their own members.
Earlier this month, a massive chunk of the roof of the 18th-century Great Synagogue of Brody in western Ukraine collapsed. Another part of the building, which is government-owned and listed as a monument for preservation, imploded in 2006. Severely damaged in World War II by German troops who tried to blow it up, what remains of the synagogue is held up by structural scaffolding. No Jews live today in Brody, which used to have thousands of Jewish residents.
The Jewish community of Satu Mare in northern Romania consists of about 100 members. Following restitution negotiations in the 1990s, it owns an impressive 129 cemeteries and four synagogues, which are falling into disrepair because the community cannot afford to maintain them.
“In truth, this building is a drain on our resources, as are the hundreds of graves we need to preserve and fence,” Paul Decsei, the community’s pointman for managing the assets, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2017 from inside the city’s main synagogue, the Decebal Street Synagogue, an imposing but crumbling 19th-century structure. “But on the other hand, we can’t walk away from any of it. It’s our heritage and we have a responsibility toward it.”
That has also been the case with the Chevra Tehilim prayer house in Krakow, Poland. In 2016, the community-owned structure, which features culturally significant decorations on its walls, was leased by the Jewish Community of Krakow and reopened as a trendy nightclub called Hevre, despite protests by some community members who said it ruined the structure.
Reeves, who bought the building in Slonim before she had even seen its interior, cited its beauty as her reason to go ahead and make the purchase. She envisions a cultural or community space where Judaism would have a prominent place.
As a practicing churchgoer who grew up during communism, Reeves’ decision was rooted in her religious sentiment.
“I’ve always had a dream to build a church. Even a small, wooden one,” Reeves, a mother of one son, told JTA. “With the Slonim synagogue project, it feels like I’m halfway there. Or perhaps I’ve already met the goal.”

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