Anti-Semitism and Other Threats to Jewish Communities in Europe

European Jewish communities face increasing threats from antisemitism and challenges to religious practices which are basic to Jewish religious identity.  The underlying forces driving expressions of anti-Semitism and campaigns against religious freedom vary among countries but can be found across Europe.  Anti-Semitic attacks on individuals, synagogues, cemeteries and schools occur with disturbing frequency.  Of particular concern is the rise in violent incidents.  A recent European Union survey of Jewish communities reflected significant fear of physical assaults and extensive avoidance of wearing kippot or other items that identify one as Jewish out of concerns for personal security.

Ten years after the adoption by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of its landmark Berlin Declaration on Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic attitudes remain distressingly high in Europe.  The Anti-Defamation League’s 2012 poll found that nearly one-third subscribed to anti-Jewish notions such as Jews having too much power in business or being more loyal to Israel than their own country.  Expressions of Anti-Israel hatred remain a concern in Europe, and attempts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state using classic anti-Semitic motifs and tactics such as BDS are among the most common manifestations of anti-Semitism today.

Anti-Semitic political parties in parliaments have distressed Jewish communities.  In Hungary, a Jobbik representative called for a list of Jews in government to be made.  In Greece, members of parliament of Golden Dawn have denied the Holocaust and read from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in parliament.  Anti-Semitic parties have also been elected to parliament in Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Additionally, the freedom to exercise two Jewish rites – ritual circumcision of newborn males (brit milah) and kosher slaughter (shechita) – are being challenged. Bans on male circumcision by setting age and/or informed consent requirements have been proposed by political parties or elected or appointed government officials in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden.  Polls in the United Kingdom and Germany have shown significant public support for a ban on circumcision.  In October 2013, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution which suggests ‘dialogue’ with religious leaders to ‘overcome’ the ancient Jewish tradition of circumcision and to adopt laws requiring a child’s consent.  De facto bans on shechita by requiring pre-stunning have been proposed by political parties or elected or appointed government officials in The Netherlands and Poland, and kosher slaughter remains illegal in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. 

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:

  • Jews, like all communities, are entitled to live in a secure environment with the freedom to practice their religion and its rituals.
  • Rising anti-Semitism and challenges to religious freedom in Europe are serious and unacceptable.
  • As Jews and as Americans, we are dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights and have a special interest in the well-being of Jewish communities around the world. As such, we are committed to monitoring, exposing and countering anti-Semitism, and to preserving the free exercise of religion, one of our most cherished rights.  Where religious freedom is well-established and well-protected, Jewish communities are more secure.  Where religious freedom is threatened, Jewish communities are threatened. 
  • Anti-Semitism in political discourse adds significantly to the insecurity of Jewish communities and must be consistently and publicly denounced by responsible political leaders. Current efforts by European governments and NGOs are not adequately addressing anti-Semitism and challenges to religious freedom.
  • The challenges facing European Jewish communities merit increased activism by the organized American Jewish community.

The community relations field should:

  • Consult with national agencies and NGOs about anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, including violence, vandalism, and expressions of anti-Semitic sentiment in the media and government.
  • Encourage the U.S. Administration and Members of Congress to raise these concerns with European leaders and to hold hearings to increase awareness of them regularly and on an ongoing basis and in consultation with European Jewish communities to consider further action if needed.
  • Urge European officials both to reassess their legislation, law enforcement and education approaches to anti-Semitism and to consistently and publically denounce anti-Semitism at every turn to better address these serious and troubling issues. In countries where constitutionally permissible, encourage governments to enforce laws against anti-Semitism and hate speech. 
  • Raise awareness in the United States of the serious nature of the problems facing European Jewish communities by engaging with American broadcast, print, and online media, and incorporating information on these issues in social media campaigns.
  • Further urge European officials to enforce the recommendations of the OSCE’s 2004 Berlin Declaration and to rededicate themselves to the principle that political events in the Middle East or elsewhere never justify anti-Semitism.
  • Share concerns about developments in Europe with American religious and ethnic coalition partners who maintain ties to specific European countries.
  • Encourage non-Jewish groups in Europe and in the United States to speak out against anti-Semitism and threats to religious freedom and to work in coalitions with Jewish communal organizations on these issues.