“We know that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem – it’s indicative of broader problems in society.”
hile Israel enjoys very close relations with the United States under the Trump administration, it’s easy to forget that just across the Mediterranean is a giant economic and political powerhouse called the European Union. The EU is Israel’s top trading partner and contains large Jewish communities, but it also differs sharply from Israel on the Iran nuclear deal and West Bank settlements.
At a recent meet the press event in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, where the British Empire still echoes, I sat down with the EU’s representative to Israel to discuss everything from anti-Semitism and Brexit to the Iran deal and a European army.
Anti-Semitism is growing all over the world, with recent attacks in New Jersey and Halle in Germany. What is the EU doing to fight the growth of these threats?
One issue is the physical security of Jewish communities, which is the responsibility of member states — but clearly, placing police in front of synagogues to prevent attacks like in Halle treats symptoms but doesn’t deal with the underlying problems.
At the EU level we contribute in a few ways to the fight against anti-Semitism. First is that we get countries together to formulate policies; we have Katharina von Schnurbein as the EU representative for anti-Semitism and we have promoted this kind of position among member states. The second area is Holocaust and anti-Semitism education in schools and among migrants who don’t have the same awareness of the issue.
The third is online anti-Semitism, where social media amplifies hatred and incitement, and the size of the EU gives us an advantage that we can use to negotiate with giants like Facebook. As a giant market, they listen to the European Commission because they know that we can regulate them. So they have committed to take down incitement within 24 hours. I tested this recently when I highlighted a US website that promoted an anti-Semitic theory, and within a few hours Twitter removed it.
We do all that because our Jewish communities are part of our European identities. And we know that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem – it’s indicative of broader problems in society.
I’ve heard European leaders — including Ms. Von Schnurbein — say that “Europe without Jews isn’t Europe.” How do you reconcile those welcome words with the EU’s policy on labeling goods from Israel’s West Bank, which is seen as supporting the BDS movement?
I have to restate what we’ve said again and again: We don’t support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel. The European Court of Justice ruling that you’re referring to says that if goods come from the West Bank or Golan, that needs to be indicated, because for us those places are not Israel. The idea is to be neutral and factual, without recognizing borders. It’s about the need to provide consumers with information.
Some consumers might be concerned not to buy from settlements, but statistics show that there has been no impact on sales of Israeli goods in Europe. Currently 40% of Israeli goods are sold on the European market, and the trend is that this is set to grow. In short, this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
With the Brexit process now at a critical stage, how does the EU view Britain’s decision to leave?
Obviously for us it’s disappointing that we’re losing a member state, but we have to respect the decision of the British people. We now have to negotiate an agreement that allows an orderly separation of the two economies.
But what’s interesting is that when the Brexit vote happened, there was a concern that other countries would campaign to leave. But we’ve seen that the Brexit example was not followed by anyone else. In fact the cohesion of the member states has remained — all 27 member states understand that the integrity of the single European markets is the core of European prosperity.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 791)