Move ‘first step’ in finding concrete way to fight for fundamental rights in Europe, Belgian communal leader Eli Ringer says.
The European Union will appoint two commissioners tasked with combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, announced.
Timmermans, speaking at a colloquium organized by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Brussels on Thursday, appeared to have listened to more than a year of lobbying by continental Jewish organizations that have been calling for the appointment of an anti-Semitism “czar.”
“The importance we attach to fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred also means that we do not just want to listen to you and your concerns today,” Timmermans told attendees, who included representatives of European Jewry.
“It means that we remain there to listen and help also when this colloquium is over. For this reason, Commissioner [for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera] Jourova and I have decided that we will designate, within the commission, two coordinators with specific responsibility for following issues relating to one, anti-Semitism and the other, Islamophobia. So one coordinator responsible to be your contact point on issues relating to anti-Semitism, another coordinator responsible as your point of contact for issues related to Islamophobia.
“I want to be in direct control of this: I will be your envoy, if you want to call it that. I will have two people in my services whose task it will be one, to make sure that the issue of anti-Semitism is her or his main activity, and the other, Islamophobia, and that they report to me directly so I know what I need to do when there is an issue at hand,” he said, adding that “whatever you say to them lands on my desk immediately.”
Both the European Jewish Congress and the US Senate have previously called for the establishment of such a position.
Representatives of organized Jewry were quick to praise the decision, although some said it could have been made much earlier.
Eli Ringer, the immediate past president of Belgium’s Forum der Joodse Organisaties, said Thursday’s announcement was a “first step” in finding a concrete way to fight for fundamental rights in Europe.
He recalled a meeting with Timmermans last April in which he requested the formation of just such an office and recommended that the issues of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia be separated.
“Both are indeed racism but need a different approach as they have a historical and a different background.
I am satisfied that our two demands were finally accepted and that today’s decision will bring results, I can only hope that despite having wasted more than a year before taking those measures we will not be confronted with irreparable damage. As I know Mr. Timmermans personally I am convinced that he will put all his energy into protecting the future of Europe,” Ringer told The Jerusalem Post.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said, “Anti-Semitic incidents have risen dramatically in Europe over the recent years both in quantity and intensity, with murders and violent assaults, and our polling in Europe has shown disturbing levels of anti-Semitic attitudes in too many European countries.
“While some national governments are taking decisive action, the European Commission also has a role to play and we welcome the personal commitment of its second highest official.”
Greenblatt added, “The EU’s own human rights agency reported on the ‘gross underreporting’ of anti-Semitic incidents and the problem that poses to develop targeted and effective policies against anti-Semitism. Commitments must be converted to action, and the first action must be to understand the scope of the problem.”
The Israeli Jewish Congress said the move was “long overdue.”
“We hope that one of the first priorities of the new European Commission coordinator will be the establishment of a comprehensive and binding definition of anti-Semitism in Europe, which is a prerequisite if this fight is to succeed,” the IJC said.
Jewish groups were enraged two years ago when the Fundamental Rights Agency deleted a working definition of anti-Semitism from its website.
Officials who spoke with the Post explained that since the organization does not collect incidents or receive complains, but instead its policy is to “apply whatever definition is applied by the primary data collectors,” the agency is unable to define terms.
“We don’t have a mandate to develop [and] impose, in any way, definitions,” Ioannis N. Dimitrakopoulos, the head of the FRA’s Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department, said at the time.
Speaking at the agency’s gathering last week, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said that “it seems that Jews are also unique in being one of the few victims of racism in Western society where the boundaries of what is considered hate are set by the perpetrators themselves and not the victims.
“In 2005, the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia released the ‘Working definition of anti-Semitism.’ However, it was never officially adopted and the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency has recently taken the definition off its website, giving an unacceptable victory to those who worked extremely hard against its adoption,” Kantor said.
“The lack of a unified and clear definition means that anti-Semites will continue to act with protection and freedom, knowing that frequently they cannot be prosecuted,” he said.
Violent Anti-Semitic incidents rose by nearly 40 percent in 2014 over the previous year, according to a report issued by Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University in April.