The Wall Street Journal
Ignoring Anti-Semitism Won’t Make It Go Away
Europe‘s leaders have a duty to face the hatred head on.
Sunday was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and a moment to reflect on that triumph of human freedom. But it was also the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and thus a moment to reflect on the evil that humans perpetrate against one another.
This week in Berlin, the German foreign ministry, the Swiss chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights hosted a high-level event on anti-Semitism. This event commemorated the 10th anniversary of the first OSCE Berlin Conference, where OSCE states pledged to combat anti-Semitism.
Ten years ago, 58 countries were represented, 18 by foreign ministers or other cabinet-level officials. This week, only 38 countries attended, and only six sent ministers. (The U.S. sent a large presidential delegation headed by Samantha Power, ambassador to the United Nations. Dozens of U.S. civil-society representatives—not just from Jewish groups but a range of civil-rights organizations—also participated.)
Several European leaders have recently spoken out condemning anti-Semitism. The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy decried a rising tide of anti-Semitic acts in a joint statement this summer, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave an important speech at a Berlin rally in September in which she declared: “It is our national and civic duty to combat anti-Semitism.”
But much more is needed. In reflecting on Kristallnacht last week, Morten Kjaerum, the head of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, acknowledged that “anti-Semitism remains at worrying levels across Europe despite the many attempts to combat it. As we come together to remember the horrors of the past, it is perhaps time to reflect what more needs to be done to stem the centuries-long persecution of Jews.”
Mr. Kjaerum’s organization published a survey last year on the experience of European Jews. It showed that three out of four respondents said anti-Semitism had become worse in their country in the past five years. One in four said they had been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack or harassment in the preceding 12 months. Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League published the results of a global survey that found 24% of people in Western Europe and 34% of people in Eastern Europe harboring identifiably anti-Semitic attitudes. Some of the survey’s findings are staggering: Fifty percent of those surveyed in Switzerland, 52% in Austria and 61% in Hungary believe that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them during the Holocaust.”
Attacks against Jews have spiked. Behind the headlines of killings like those in recent years in Belgium and France are many more instances of violent attacks, vandalized synagogues and Jewish community centers, and other hate crimes that aim to intimidate and undermine European Jews’ sense of security. The U.K.—which included in its delegation to this week’s meeting officials in charge of countering hate crimes—recorded more anti-Semitic hate crimes this July than in any single month in more than five years.
The problem is acute, and European leaders should reaffirm their pledge to fight it and identify what more can be done. As Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss president and OSCE chair, said in Berlin: “What is needed most today in preventing and addressing anti-Semitism is political leadership.”
One place to start is by acknowledging that anti-Semitism is happening, condemning it publicly whenever it arises, and reaching out to civil society to join forces in fighting it. Civil-society representatives from OSCE states met just before this week’s conference to draw up recommendations. They called on governments to systematically collect and publicize detailed data on hate crimes and prosecutions, and to engage not only Jewish communities but also interfaith groups and human-rights advocates in working together to counter hate.
As anti-Semitic violence often coincides with protests against Israel, leaders must also forcefully reject the notion that violence and hate crimes against Jews are a legitimate mode of political expression. Allowing anti-Semitic displays aimed at delegitimizing and demonizing Israel to go unanswered also fuels the problem of anti-Semitism at home.
In Europe, anti-Semitism remains a living stain on the Continent’s soul more than half a century after the Holocaust. But Europe is not just a place; it is an idea—of rights-respecting democracies that reflect liberal ideals of tolerance and openness. Europe’s leaders must embrace the truth that fighting anti-Semitism is a duty they owe their citizens and a project central to what Europe has been and what it is today.
Mr. Baer is the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.