Mobilizing Against Hate in Brussels as Hate Claims Another Victim in the UK

As I joined a consultative seminar in Brussels at the European Parliament on building coalitions to counter antisemitism, intolerance, and discrimination, we received word of the brutal murder of Jo Cox, the British parliamentarian respected for her humanitarianism and efforts to promote tolerance. Tragically, a man fueled by hatred and allegedly neo-Nazi beliefs stabbed and shot her.

This killing is yet another reminder, made in blood, that fighting antisemitism and other forms of hatred is an urgent and critical task that requires us to come together as a force for peace that is stronger than hate. Antisemitism is not a fight for Jews to take on alone; it is a fight for us all.

There has been a rising and tide of far-right hate crime in Europe; in Germany in the past year, for example, 90% of hate crimes were committed by far right supporters. Yet at the same time, far-right parties and movements have been gaining support in the polls. A participant at the seminar worried that voters seem unaware of the slippery slope of lending their support to parties that use hateful rhetoric against refugees, Muslims, Jews, and other vulnerable groups, and that bias-motivated speech has contributed to the rise in violence. Hate crime rose in Germany by 77 percent to 10,373 incidents in 2015, primarily motivated by xenophobia, followed by antisemitism, racism, and religion. 

This phenomenon is not limited to the far right; crimes by extreme-left supporters have been rising in Germany, for example. As Mark Weitzmann, the chair of the IHRA Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, said at the seminar, one thing that unites right-wing, left-wing, and Islamist extremists is antisemitism. And Viviane Teitelbaum, the president of the European Women’s Lobby agreed, saying that the enemy for those who care about democracy is extremism.

The antisemitic attitudes and actions of the far right have rightly been drawing critical attention, but there is also a dangerous strain of antisemitism on the far left, which generally correlates to spikes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Positions shift too easily from criticizing Israeli policies to encouraging hatred of Jews. Expressions of antisemitism on the far left also manifest through questioning the significance of the Holocaust, as happened recently in the UK when anti-Semitic remarks resulted in the suspension of several MPs.

To fight antisemitism, we must embrace diversity in our coalitions and in our advocacy. It is insufficient to engage those who already agree that it is an important fight. We must engage the mainstream and those with whom there are ideological differences. We must go beyond our own communities and find new allies.  As speakers from the European Union of Jewish students discussed, it is not useful to preach to the choir; if vulnerable groups only talk to each other about issues that pertain to their community, no progress can be made. It is only by building coalitions with other communities and reaching out to society as a whole that we can make the situation safer in Europe for Jews and other vulnerable populations.

At the seminar, which was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI), we discussed how the OSCE, supported by the German government, is making this fight a priority. This multilateral body is seeking to “turn words into action” and help strengthen the capacity of OSCE participating States and civil society to prevent and respond to antisemitism. That is a good start and Human Rights First is proud to be part of building such a coalition.

We must learn from and about each other, stand up for each other, take risks, promote unity, and be clear about the vital necessity of promoting a vision of Europe and the United States where the rights of all are respected. The rights of Jews are human rights, as are the rights of Roma and Muslims and others. To end with Jo Cox’s words, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

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Published on June 23, 2016

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