Picture of Commission working group on antisemitism

Working Group on the implementation of the EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life

On 5 October 2021 the European Commission adopted the first-ever EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life. In full respect of national competences, the strategy sets out the policy framework for the Commission for the period 2021-2030, which is comprised of three pillars:

1 – Preventing and combating all forms of antisemitism

2 – Protecting and fostering Jewish life in the EU

3 – Education, research and Holocaust remembrance

The strategy also seeks to place the EU firmly in the lead of the global fight against antisemitism, complementing measures within the EU with international efforts along all the three pillars.

As stated in the strategy “To support the implementation of this strategy and help coordinate Member States’ efforts the Commission will formalise the ad hoc ‘Working Group on combating antisemitism’ as a permanent structure that brings together Member States, Jewish communities’ representatives and other stakeholders.”

1st Working Group meeting on the implementation of the EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life (14 - 15 December 2021)

The first Working Group meeting on the implementation of the EU Antisemitism Strategy took place on 14 - 15 December 2021, in an online format, and focused on the main actions put forward by the strategy under its three pillars and the ways in which Member States, Jewish communities, civil society organisations and international organisations can support its implementation and use it as a basis for the development of their national strategies and actions.

On the first day, the European Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, gave the keynote speech.

The first session outlined the strategy and its main actions and addressed how Member States, Jewish communities, civil society organisations and international organisations can support its implementation and use it as a basis for the development of their national strategies and actions by 2022. The following session provided an overview of where Member States stand with the development of national strategies and participants discussed the links between strategies to combat antisemitism and anti-racism strategies, and exchangedd best practices of strategies that have been developed or are currently under development. The last session was structured in three focus discussions on the main pillars of the strategy.

2nd Working Group meeting on the implementation of the EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life (1 - 2 June 2022)

The European Commission held the second meeting of the Working group on the implementation of the EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, which supports the implementation of the EU Strategy and the Member States in their efforts to develop national strategies in line with their commitment in the Council Conclusions on combating Racism and Antisemitism, adopted on 4 March 2022. Special envoys on combating antisemitism and representatives of the Member States, national Jewish communities, international Jewish umbrella organisations and international organisations such as OSCE/ODIHR and UNESCO took active part in the meeting.

The meeting opened with a video message from Vice-President Margaritis Schinas.

In the first session, the discussion focused on the antisemitic narratives and disinformation used by Russia as justification for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In a ‘tour de table’ opened by Belgian Belgian Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity, Sarah Schlitz, Member States and Jewish communities shared updates on the development of the national strategies and actions in the fight against antisemitism and respectively the current challenges faced by the Jewish communities today. Vice-President of the European Parliament, Nicola Beer, gave the concluding remarks for the first day.

The following day, Ambassador Jitka Látal Znamenáčková, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Czech Republic to the Political and Security Committee of the EU, in her keynote speech, highlighted the Czech Presidency’s commitment to fighting antisemitism. Participants further discussed the security needs of the Jewish community and on what the EU and Member States can do to meet those needs as well as the need for a standardised methodology for recording antisemitic incidents.

European Commission Working Group on combating antisemitism

The European Commission initiated the working group on combating antisemitism as a follow-up to the unanimous adoption by EU Member States of the "Council Declaration on the fight against antisemitism and the development of a common security approach to better protect Jewish communities and institutions in Europe" on 6 December 2018.

The working group supports Member States to adopt at national level holistic strategies to prevent and fight all forms of antisemitism as part of their strategies on preventing racism, xenophobia, radicalisation and violent extremism.

The meetings bring together representatives from EU Member States such as special envoys or coordinator on combating antisemitism as well as from lead Ministries, national Jewish representative bodies, relevant international organisations, major Jewish umbrella organisations and experts.

1st meeting “Security for Jewish communities, institutions and citizens” (20 June 2019)

Security of its citizens is a primary responsibility of the state. The first working sessions focused on the pressing issue of security of Jewish communities and premises. The aim of the session was to exchange best practices provided by national and international actors as well as the Jewish community in order to support Member States’ efforts to ensure safety and security for their Jewish communities and premises. Concrete tools were presented to Member States to develop holistic strategies for security where they do not exist already.

2nd meeting “Education on Jewish life, antisemitism and the Holocaust” (10/11 December 2019)

Education facilities are key places to raise citizens awareness about antisemitism with the aim of preventing and combatting its spread in Europe, yet there are many challenges to recognising and addressing its different manifestations effectively. For example, the word “Jew” has become, in some countries, a derogatory term among young people. Also, teachers may face pushback when attempting to teach about the history of the Holocaust.

Young Jewish people have also become the targets of antisemitic harassment or physical violence in education facilities, driving some families to leave public schools and decreasing opportunities to build intercultural relationships with Jewish youth. Too often antisemitic incidents in schools remain invisible, unaddressed and unchallenged.

It is essential to revisit education about Jewish life, antisemitism and the Holocaust in a holistic way. With this in mind, the second meeting examined how to prevent, address and respond to antisemitism in and through education.

3rd meeting “Using the IHRA definition of antisemitism – data-collection, training and support for victims of antisemitism” (17 June 2020) 

Next to the many positive effects of the internet, the digital world has also become a central playground for hatred and disinformation. During the confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge of conspiracy myths online consisting of antisemitic discourse targeting Jews, increased the worry about the aftermath of the lockdown.

Hence, the first panel of the working group focused primarily on EU action against the proliferation of disinformation and antisemitic conspiracy myths and was followed by a discussion on data collection, proper services for the support of victims of antisemitic attacks, and sharing of best practices.

In order to have a comprehensive understanding of the sources of antisemitism and a veridical account of incidents, it is vital for Member States to ensure comprehensive data collection and adequate support for the victims. This will encourage reporting, investigation of incidents and foster cooperation between communities, law enforcement and judicial authorities. The EU Victims Rights' Directive provides for common rules relating to victims support, including for victims of hate crime.

The 3rd Working Group meeting also discussed the use of the legally non-binding IHRA working definition and the development of national strategies on combating antisemitism in order to be able to address and respond accordingly to all types of antisemitic incidents and hate crimes, online and offline, with a victim-centred approach. Several Member States presented progress made thus far on their respective national strategy on combating antisemitism.

4th meeting: “Development of national strategies, guidance for the practical use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and fighting antisemitic prejudices as part of civic orientation measures" (8 December 2020)

The 4th meeting of the Working Group on combating antisemitism focused on the development of national strategies against antisemitism, the practical use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, and fighting against antisemitic prejudices as part of civic orientation measures based on the European Commission Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion.

Vice-President for promoting our European Way of life, Margaritis Schinas, opened the meeting and reiterated Europe’s determination to win the fight against antisemitism. He thanked the German EU Presidency for negotiating the Council Declaration on mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism across policies, adopted on 2 December. He also informed about a comprehensive EU Strategy on antisemitism to be adopted by the Commission in 2021.

In a first panel discussion, representatives of Member States and of Jewish communities, in line with the recommendations of the 2018 Council Declaration on the fight against antisemitism to adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and fight all forms of antisemitism, explored good practices on developing strategies and looked into how to specifically mainstream antisemitism in different policy fields, from education and culture to technology, marketing, employment, security etc.

A session was dedicated to the presentation of a handbook of good practices for the application of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. This handbook was commissioned by the European Commission and the IHRA and will be published by the end of 2020.

In the 2018 Council Declaration, Member States agreed, “to introduce training about all forms of intolerance, racism and hate crime, in particular antisemitic prejudices and hate crime, into the curricula of integration courses”. Hence, during this session, participants were informed about the EU integration policies and experts and Member States representatives shared on existing projects and initiatives that aim to foster newcomers' inclusion in society and address possible antisemitic prejudices and further discussed new ways to achieve this goal. 

Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová closed the event, pointing in particular to the urgent need in addressing COVID-related disinformation and antisemitic conspiracy ideology as well as the usefulness of the recent European Commission Democracy Action Plan in that regard.

5th meeting: “The development of the EU Strategy of combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life" (3 – 4 June 2021)

The 5th meeting of the Working Group on combating antisemitism was a key event to consult Member States and Jewish communities on their ideas for the first-ever EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life. The strategy will be adopted by the European Commission by the end of 2021, as announced in its Work Programme 2021. The objective of the meeting was to gain input from national authorities and stakeholders on the most important issues that the strategy should address and concrete actions to tackle them. On 2 December 2020, the Council adopted a Declaration on mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism across policy areas, in which it explicitly invites the Commission “to advance the fight against antisemitism (…) by bringing supporting measures together in a comprehensive European strategy on combating antisemitism.”

Vice-President for promoting our European Way of life, Margaritis Schinas, presented the work that paved the way in the fight against discrimination, racism and antisemitism.

The aim of the Strategy is threefold: I) to prevent and combat all forms of antisemitism (online and offline), II) to foster Jewish life and safeguard Jewish heritage and III) to ensure and strengthen Holocaust remembrance, education and research. These objectives form the pillars that will guide the development of the Strategy inside and outside the EU. Each session focused on one of these pillars.

The first session on 'Preventing and combating all forms of antisemitism', comprised of two separate panel discussions on combating online and offline antisemitism. Panellists and participants discussed the new challenges faced by the spread of online hate, the real consequences and links to the physical world and how best to tackle and address all forms of antisemitism in order to ensure a safe Europe for all citizens, on all spheres of life. Behind the backdrop of the newly published study on The rise of antisemitism online during the pandemic. A study of French and German content, that shows a seven-fold increase in antisemitic content on Twitter, Facebook and Telegram in French, and over a thirteen-fold increase in antisemitic content in German, participants agreed that urgent action need to be taken in order to address antisemitism online and that more cooperation with internet platforms is required in order to stop the proliferation of disinformation and conspiracy theories that endangers the lives of Jews in Europe.

Furthermore, participants regarded as most important the need to increase awareness about Jewish life and culture as well as Jewish history, customs and practices as part of the efforts to foster Jewish life and safeguard Jewish heritage. The second session explored therefore how the EU could support and foster a vibrant Jewish life in all its diversity in Europe. Ensure security at all levels and strengthen legislation were two other measures that were put forward by participants as the main actions to be featured in the new strategy.

The third session on 'Holocaust remembrance, education and research' touched upon the need to preserve historical memory and encourage research, explore new ways to advance education about the Holocaust in a time when the last survivors are passing away and their stories must be protected and shared with the next generation in a digital age. To do so, participants strongly indicated the need to strengthen the enforcement of legislation on Holocaust denial, distortion and trivialisation, and the support for Holocaust education and remembrance.