Citizen Dialogue: Forgetting – A Threat to Peace in Europe?

Ahead of the European elections, a public debate organized by the Representation of the European Commission in Luxembourg entitled “Citizen Dialogue: Forgetting – A Threat to Peace in Europe?” dealing with forgetting the Holocaust and the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe as a threat to democracy, took place on Wednesday 15th May in Luxembourg City. The public had the opportunity to exchange with Ambassador Georges Santer, current Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on Combatting Antisemitism.

Over the past months, the resurgence of racist, xenophobic and antisemitic acts along with growing extremism have raised great concerns for the future of democracy in Europe. According to a large-scale report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published in March 2019, around 40% of Jewish European citizens have considered emigrating in the past five years.

Katharina von Schnurbein was appointed Coordinator on Combatting Antisemitism in 2015, when the position was created (at the same time as a position of a Coordinator on Combatting Hate against Muslims) in the aftermath of the attacks against “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris and the Jewish citizens in Copenhagen. She observes that “new forms of antisemitism haven’t replaced the old ones; they supplement the existing ones”. These new forms are in particular Holocaust denial, the trivialization of the Holocaust and the idea that the Jews use the Holocaust in their favour or exaggerate it. Moreover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict leads to the projection of anti-Israelis ideas on the Jewish community in Europe.

The recent FRA report shows that 54% of Europeans see the Jewish community through the prism of the middle-East conflict. According to von Schnurbein, this trend is amplified by the advent of the digital era. Both she and Ambassador Santer warned that the situation is not sustainable and that taking actions is necessary in order to preserve the democratic values that have been fundamental to the European Union since the end of the Second World War – values also drawn from the dreadful experience of the Shoah. For Ambassador Georges Santer, “civil society has to be aware of our values and has to stand up for them. This is not only the task of politicians. We — everyone — have to defend our values or we will lose the opportunity to make our world a better place“.

Since the position of Coordinator on Combatting Antisemitism was introduced, decisive steps have been undertaken. In 2016, a code of conduct was created together with information technology companies, whereby they committed to removing reported hate speech content within 24 hours. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to be done. Over the coming weeks, a first working group on security is to take place with stakeholders at the EU level. Other meetings on education around Holocaust remembrance and data collection will follow. For if clear legal safeguards are needed, nothing can be achieved without member states' efforts. In this respect, von Schnurbein stressed the role of education in combatting antisemitism. To this end, training teachers is of upmost importance. The aim is to create holistic strategies that member states can apply to tackle antisemitism in the broader context of fighting against racism.

Working hand in hand with organizations such as the IHRA that already have developed training tools in this area is of great relevance. Since the creation of the position, the Coordinator on Combatting Antisemitism has been in close contact with the IHRA, and this cooperation will continue.

Photo: Katharina von Schnurbein, Georges Santer, and Mark David Cole. © European Union, 2019