Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour and a pleasure to be able to join you today for the second meeting of this Working Group on Antisemitism.
Rising antisemitism across Europe and worldwide allows us no room for complacency.
Anti-Jewish incidents are unfortunately on the rise. In a major survey we ran last year, every third person reported having been subject to antisemitic harassment when wearing or displaying items in public that could identify them as Jewish.
Antisemitism has many forms, ranging from Antizionism, to Holocaust denial and distortion; from a discriminatory comment towards a colleague in the workplace, to severe threats to a person’s life.
Its prevalence spans the entire social and political spectrum, ranging from far-right and far-left perpetrators, to religious extremists.
The normalisation of antisemitic myths and prejudices challenges the expression of Jewish identity in Europe.
And it cuts much deeper than that.
Because when a gunman opens fire in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, or in a museum at the very heart of the European capital, this is not an attack only against the Jewish community.
It is an attack on us all. On our fundamental values and principles. On the unity, diversity and cohesion of our societies. On all that constitutes our European way of life.
Antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem.
As President von der Leyen said yesterday, commemorating the victims of the dreadful Halle attack, it is up to us all to fight antisemitism, to prevent it and to eradicate it. This fight “is as much for every other part of our community as it is for Jewish people. And it is one which must be led at local, regional, national and European level.”
It is with this objective in mind that the President entrusted me with leading the fight against antisemitism under this new European Commission.
And today, I make a promise to you that I will harness every tool at my disposal to make sure antisemitism is henceforth tackled on a horizontal level.
From hate crime and hate speech, to security aspects, to education, integration or youth, we need to address the scourge of antisemitism comprehensively.
All these aspects are part of the 2018 Council declaration. And all of them are part of my portfolio as Vice-President – one that exists for the very first time, precisely to help address effectively such complex and multi-faceted challenges.
I have been very clear on what my approach will be: putting people at the centre of everything we do. It is vital to systematically include the views of Jewish communities in our actions.
And in this, the role of this working group – bringing together key people from Member States and Jewish communities – is more important than ever.
I would like to sincerely thank my colleague, Vice-President Vera Jourova – I understand she we also join you later today – for launching the work of this group. I will continue working closely with her on this matter in her new capacity as Vice President for Values and Transparency. And I would like to also thank our Coordinator on antisemitism, Katharina Von Schnurbein, for being a relentlessly dedicated Chair.
You have begun an incredibly valuable work, on which we must continue to build. What we need now is a step change.
Starting from the basics, in the way we organise our work, I have agreed with the President on setting up a new dedicated team on antisemitism within the Commission. Resources are important – because the task ahead of us is important and very demanding.
But we are well aware that we cannot do this alone.
We need to work hand-in-hand with our Member States, and encourage them to actively do their share. In the Council declaration on combating antisemitism all Member States committed themselves to comprehensively tackling antisemitism.
My role is to accompany and support them in these efforts – and I am highly encouraged by the fact that the upcoming German Presidency of the Council has highlighted the fight against antisemitism as a matter of priority for their term, in the second half of 2020.
In this effort, we will greatly rely in the expertise and input of this working group.
In your first meeting in June you discussed security risks, physical protection and collaboration with law enforcement.
Security is the number one concern of Jewish communities. A concern I take very seriously. My responsibilities include coordinating the Commission’s work on the Security Union. And we can only speak of such a Union if in it each and every European feels safe and protected – irrespective of their faith, origin, or place of residence.
Today, one in three Jews avoids visiting Jewish premises or festivals due to security concerns. This must change. Synagogues, community centres, schools and universities should be places where Jewish culture is respected, studied and celebrated – not attacked.
The EU Internal Security Fund can offer support to the Member States in this work, through funding protective measures.
At today’s meeting, you will discuss another aspect of critical importance – that of Education.
You cannot fight what you cannot define. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism is our common basis for identifying and educating about contemporary expressions of antisemitism.
Adopted already by 15 EU Member States, it is crucial to start applying this definition systematically in education settings, reflecting the triangle that you will discuss here today:
- teaching about Jewish life and culture,
- teaching about the Shoah
- and teaching about modern forms of antisemitism.
The role of schools can be pivotal.
Teachers must be able to recognise antisemitic speech and know how to address it. School principals must react swiftly when children are harassed for being Jewish. Attitudes need to change. We can no longer tolerate situations where victims of harassment are forced to leave the school, while the perpetrators stay.
Education is the most important long-term preventive tool also in societies with little or no Jewish communities.
Coordinating our work on an ambitious, inclusive education agenda is another key responsibility of mine. Here again, we need very close cooperation with our Member States, who hold the competence for education policies.
In the course of the day you will hear about different tools and programmes including Erasmus+, the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and the Structural Reform Support that are designed to help Member States in their work to develop national strategies against antisemitism.
We need to learn from best practices and develop tools together with national Jewish communities to effectively address antisemitism in both formal and informal education.
Over the next five years, you can count on my personal commitment to keep the fight against Antisemitism at the top of Europe’s political agenda. In the coming weeks and months, I will be visiting a series of European capitals, and will make sure to address in this context the need for effective national responses to antisemitism.
The diversity of Jewish life, as part of European diversity, must be cherished. In few places is this more evident than in my own hometown Thessaloniki, once a thriving centre of Sephardic Jewish life – called ‘Madre de Israel’ by its Ladino-speaking community – and still a city rich in Jewish heritage and culture nowadays.
Promoting our European Way of Life means leaving no room for hatred and radicalisation in Europe today. The fight for normality of Jewish life is a litmus test for Europe to defend and protect its diversity.
And it’s a challenge we are determined to live up to.