B’NAI B’RITH IMPACT
B’nai B’rith’s Voice in the European Parliament: The Working Group Against Anti-Semitism
While our advocacy work around European Union (EU) institutions has been mostly concentrated in our Brussels office since 1997, today, under the umbrella of B’nai B’rith Europe, we have units across the continent.
The importance of engaging with the EU to combat anti-Semitism cannot be overstated. Today’s EU is an economic and political alliance of 27 nations, anchored in the principles of justice, human rights and the rule of law. The European Parliament is the legislative body delegated to uphold these tenets. The preservation of its commitment to fight anti-Semitism in a reconstructed Europe requires constant and active engagement by politicians, policymakers and other members of society. It has been our role to mobilize and inform this engagement every day.
Among the various institutions of the EU, the European Parliament is the voice of over 450 million citizens of the EU countries. It channels this voice through 705 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), directly and proportionally elected by EU citizens. Working in various political groups, it represents the entire ideological spectrum and is somewhat similar to the U.S. Congress. A special group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and mainstreaming Jewish life was thus crucial in the EU’s most representative body.
The European Parliament Working Group Against Anti-Semitism
It is for this reason that B’nai B’rith International joined the European Jewish Congress to form the Advisory Board to the European Parliament’s Working Group against Anti-Semitism (WGAS) — a multi-partisan caucus formed in 2012 devising policy measures to address anti-Jewish hatred. MEPs who sign on or become bureau members commit to oppose anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and all kinds of discrimination in all possible settings across the EU; defend the right for European Jewish citizens to practice their religion, including the right to worship and to practice Jewish traditions and promote a culture of respect for the diversity of Jewish life and heritage in Europe; condemn hate speech and incitement to violence against Jews, whether online or in the real world; and advocate for better monitoring and reporting of such incidents. They promote the importance of education in combating anti-Semitism and support initiatives that educate against hatred in the classroom and beyond. They publicly and systematically condemn anti-Jewish rhetoric; they work to preserve the memory of the Holocaust in the European Parliament and across the EU; they oppose Holocaust denial, trivialization and distortion; and ensure that the topic of the Holocaust remains on national school curricula across the EU. They advance legislative proposals to address all of the above.
Now functioning at its third Parliament, the WGAS, working closely with B’nai B’rith, has spearheaded major achievements that helped mainstream the fight against anti-Semitism on an EU-wide level and in member states. Ever since its inception, the WGAS has campaigned fervently for the appointment of a Special Envoy and a task force on anti-Semitism for the EU. This came to fruition in 2015, when the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, appointed Katharina von Schnurbein as the EU’s first coordinator on combating anti-Semitism. The WGAS also regularly advocates for the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2017, the WGAS led the effort to draft and pass a historic resolution against anti-Semitism, championing this definition and calling on states to develop national action plans to address anti-Jewish hatred. In 2018, this was further mandated by a unanimous declaration in the European Council, the body that comprises the heads of government of the EU member states.