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Azeri.Today ran a Q&A with our Director of European Affairs Benjamin Nägele, discussing anti-Semitism in the European Union and what Brussels, civic organizations and Jewish communities are doing to combat it.

​Scroll down to read or click below to read it on Azeri.Today.

Azeri.Today interviews Director of European Affairs, B’nai B’rith International Benjamin Nägele.

– The European Parliament (EP) approved by a majority of votes the working definition of anti-Semitism, developed by the International Alliance in memory of the Holocaust. According to the adopted working definition, anti-Semitism is “a special kind of attitude towards Jews, which can be expressed in hatred towards them.” What new opportunities will this decision of the European Parliament open for European Jews?

– The reference to the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism is part of a comprehensive EP resolution on the state of anti-Semitism in Europe.

The resolution calls for three major steps:

The need for the use of the IHRA working definition on anti-Semitism and its adoption on the national level, the creation of special national envoys and all-parliamentary groups dealing with anti-Semitism and a bigger financial support by the Member states for security measures of their respective Jewish communities.

B’nai B’rith International has been closely following and supporting both the drafting and the vote on the recent resolution on anti-Semitism in the European Parliament. 

Our organization had been pushing for such a definition for years, since the European Fundamental Rights Agency had decided to withdraw the use and reference of an identical definition on anti-Semitism on its website.

Addressing and combatting the problem of anti-Semitism is impossible without a clear definition. Having an official reference by the European Parliament to IHRA’s definition that also highlights crucial examples and clearly defined lines, when Israel-criticism becomes anti-Semitic, will be extremely helpful both for government officials, organizations but also victims of anti-Semitism, to properly assess and tackle the issue.

We hope that the cross-party support and adoption with a vast majority will translate into implementations of these three major points on the national level, therefore helping Jewish communities around Europe.

– How did the countries of the European Union react to this decision of the European Parliament?

The European Union member states had supported the IHRA definition already in two separate occasions in the last year prior to the European Parliament Resolution:

All 28 EU member countries had voted for this definition during the annual OSCE conference last December in Hamburg, and out of its 31 IHRA members, all 24 European countries had unanimously supported the adoption of the definition on 26 May of 2016.

This, combined with the strong majority support from all EU parliamentarians, indicates a clear support of this definition across the member states that will hopefully also translate into further adoptions on the national level.

– Is there any hope that the European countries will adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism and will apply this vital tool in practice?

We already have three European Member States that have adopted and use this definition on anti-Semitism: UK last December, Austria this April and Romania in May of this year.

I very much hope that the recently adopted European Parliament Resolution, that explicitly calls for an adoption on the national level, will encourage other member states to follow.

As an organization not only working on the European level here in Brussels but also being represented in the EU member states, we closely follow the national efforts and are in contact with national governments and ministries to push for an adoption in further European countries.

– With the adoption of the Berlin Declaration of 2004, OSCE participating States committed themselves “to develop and disseminate educational programs aimed at combating anti-Semitism, to promote the preservation of the memory of the tragedy of the Holocaust, as necessary, insisting on the need for respect for all ethnic and religious groups. Is this commitment being fulfilled by the OSCE participating States?

– Unfortunately the OSCE commitment to educational programs on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust has not translated into the desired outcome: Anti-Semitism has drastically increased in many member states, with more and more Jews from OSCE member countries suffering from anti-Semitic attacks. The rise of anti-Jewish hatred has also resulted in a proliferation of anti-Semitic propaganda, much of which is directed against the State of Israel. Tragically, the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state has become a daily occurrence, as Israel’s enemies repeatedly accuse it of being a Nazi-like occupier and an apartheid state that disenfranchises the Palestinians.

OSCE member-states must fulfill their reporting requirements with respect to hate crimes data. Far too few governments have done so until now. Failure to adequately monitor and document the problem is a barrier to developing comprehensive approaches to combat it.

The OSCE member states have unfortunately also failed to adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism. An attempt to secure a consensus on such a document at the OSCE Hamburg Ministerial last year fell short.

We hope that the momentum of the European Parliament resolution will translate into another attempt this year, led by the Austrian OSCE chairmanship.

– How do you assess the level of anti-Semitism in Europe?

– Jewish communities around Europe are facing an increased amount of anti-Semitism that unfolds itself in many different forms:

Anti-Semitic hate speech on- and offline, physical threats and violence on the streets, but first and foremost deadly terrorist attacks against European Jews and Jewish institutions such as in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen or Toulouse.

The Fundamental rights agency FRA has conducted in its anti-Semitism report a worrying increase in anti-Semitism, with 21% of Jews in Europe having experienced at least one anti-Semitic incident in the last 12 months alone. On average 29% of European Jews have considered emigrating to Israel as a result, in Hungary, Belgium and France the number is at a shocking 40-48%.

Nevertheless we still lack a comprehensive evaluation with detailed data from all European member states, which is based on clearly defined parameters. This is why the IHRA definition and the EP resolution with its reference to the definition are so crucial.

– What steps are being taken by Jewish communities and European organizations to combat anti-Semitism?

-On the EU level B’nai B’rith International is an advisory board member of the European Parliament Anti-Semitism working group and works closely with the cross-party Members of Parliament that chair this working group and have also been responsible for the drafting and adoption of the anti-Semitism resolution.

The group regularly holds conferences and meetings inside the European institutions on ways to combat anti-Semitism. A security tool kit for Jewish communities, developed by the OSCE ODIHR, has recently been introduced at our anti-Semitism working group meeting.

BBI also works closely with the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova and her team as well as the Commission’s Fundamental rights unit and Coordinator on Combatting Anti-Semitism Katharina von Schnurbein, who are focusing among others on combatting anti-Semitism online, especially in social media platforms.
As a member of the EU’s High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, B’nai B’rith is supporting the Code of Conduct, which tackles specifically the online environment and the responsibility of social media providers to combat anti-Semitism online.

Due to the terror attacks and increase of physical threats the Jewish communities around Europe also had to significantly increase their security measures around community centers and synagogues.

We strongly believe that the issue of anti-Semitism in Europe needs to be tackled via coalition building and cooperation between the Jewish communities, its umbrella organizations in close exchange and cooperation with national governments and its European institutions.

But only by having a clear-cut definition of anti-Semitism the issue can be assessed and thereby tackled properly, both in the online and offline environment.

This will also be the main focus of our upcoming international B’nai B’rith convention in Prague this November, which will have several panels dedicated to this issue and will host high-level speakers such as Commissioner Jourova and anti-Semitism coordinator Ms. Von Schnurbein to discuss ways to further increase the good cooperation in this regard.
With its 150.000 members worldwide, B’nai B’rith international is uniquely equipped to represent the concerns and needs of its Jewish communities and develops the tools to combat anti-Semitism in close cooperation with governments and international organizations.

– What do you know about life of Mountain Jews in Azerbaijan?

– Azerbaijan has a unique and rich Jewish history spanning over 3 decades and reaches back to the times of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. The Jewish community is well-integrated and accepted in Azerbaijan society. Jews in Azerbaijan can be seen as a role model of integration, but also advocacy for the strong relations of their country with Israel, which has developed into a fruitful cooperation and trade agreements in the areas of technology and especially energy since the early 90s.​