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B’nai B’rith’s Voice in the European Parliament: The Working Group Against Anti-Semitism


A member of the advisory board of the European Parliament Working Group Against anti-Semitism (WGAS), B’nai B’rith Europe plays an active role at the Brussels headquarters of the European Parliament. Photo credit: Tukka/
In B’nai B’rith’s long and proud history, Europe has always held a special place. Since our inception in 1843, we’ve served Europe’s Jewish community, in the best and worst of times.

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.


The European Parliament WGAS was photographed with Advisory Board members, B’nai B’rith International Director of EU Affairs Alina Bricman and European Jewish Congress Director of European Affairs Ariella Woitchik. Back row, from left: Bricman; Woitchik; MEP Fredérique Ries; MEP Sergey Lagodinsky; Former MEP Karoline Edtstadler; Vice President of the European Parliament Nicola Beer; MEP Dragos Tudorache. Front row: MEP David Lega.


Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s first coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, speaks at the B’nai B’rith International Leadership Forum in Prague in 2017.
Beyond these legal and structural efforts, the Working Group is key in elevating and spotlighting topics relevant to the Jewish community at events and conferences, from tackling anti-Semitism in sports to the dangers of BDS (the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) and working with law-enforcement to tackle hate crimes to address extremism from right, left and Islamist factions. Notably, the strong WGAS voice was crucial in making anti-Semitism a top priority for the 2019-2024 EU leadership, following the terrorist attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany.

Today and Tomorrow

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Working Group has remained active, importantly bringing together the presidencies of the Council of the EU and IHRA — both held simultaneously by Germany — to coordinate a harmonized and accelerated agenda for safeguarding Jewish life in Europe.

As the health crisis has created both economic and cultural crises in their own right, anti-Semitism has reemerged in both old and new clothes, as conspiracy myths have implicated Jews as the drivers of the pandemic. While priorities of policymakers have naturally shifted, tackling anti-Semitism and discrimination must remain a central pillar of the focus in Brussels. B’nai B’rith will continue, both within and outside of the WGAS, to advance this priority.

B’nai B’rith Director of EU Affairs Alina Bricman has observed: “In the European Parliament, which represents every EU citizen, it’s only natural that a vigilant and effective body exists to safeguard the interests of Jewish Europeans and ensure that the fight against anti-Semitism is a permanent agenda item that demonstrates the acknowledgment of the past and the commitment toward the building of a positive, diverse and inclusive future.”