Speech at Beit HaNassi on 4 November 2019
It is a true honour to address you at the residence of the President on behalf of the special envoys on antisemitism this morning.
The meeting comes at a sobering moment. The antisemitic attack in Halle happened despite all our efforts. It was probably only thanks to an angel pushing against the door from inside that may be the biggest massacre after the Shoah on European soil was avoided. Two people, Jana and Kevin, nevertheless were murdered randomly.
The perpetrator’s action was deliberate against the Jewish community and it was deliberate on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur 5780 will be remembered, not only by the community in Halle, but across Europe, like many of us remember 9/11. Everyone knows exactly what they were doing when they heard of the attack in Halle. Some, for the first time in their lives, broke Yom Kippur, switched on their mobile phones, started to work. Next year they will say: remember last year, and then: remember five years ago, 10 years ago…
We cannot simply go back to normal. In Europe we are determined to turn this pernicious deed into positive action.
Close cooperation between Israel and the EU is an important piece in this endeavour and our gratitude goes to President Ruvi Rivlin for enabling our exchange here today. You are an inspiration to all of us.
On the day of the attack, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called upon all Europeans to stand up against antisemitism and stand in solidarity with the Jewish community. Halle must be remembered for being a turning point in how we all, state actors, civil society, churches and religious communities, unions, parties, schools, see and tackle antisemitism. It is our common responsibility and not above all a Jewish one. Yet, I commend the reaction of Josef Schuster, the President of the German Central Council of Jews after the attack who refuted the idea of leaving Germany saying: “I will not move one centimetre to leave Germany to the Nazis”.
Exactly one week ago, special envoys on antisemitism gathered with Jewish community leaders in Munich at the occasion of Chancellor Angela Merkel being honoured with the Theodor Herzl prize of the WJC. At the centre of our debate was the nexus between on-line hate speech and radicalisation that translates into antisemitic and other hate crime in the real world. We used to think our children were save as long as they were in their rooms, but nowadays they may well be out there in the virtual world exposed to toxic ideologies and hate speech.
We discussed the need to properly apply existing legislation which already criminalizes speech inciting to hatred and violence on European soil, including Holocaust denial and distortion. This legislation needs to be applied online and offline. New legislation has been proposed for Europe obliging hosting service providers to take down terrorist content within one-hour upon public order. Given the global challenge, such legislation would really be needed world wide.
There has been progress.
By committing social media companies across Europe in May 2016 to tackle illegal hate speech within 24h we have been able to substantially increase the amount of visible and open incitement to hatred and violence. When we concluded the Code of Conduct with the big IT companies only one fourth of illegal content was removed; today, 72% of the content deemed illegal is removed. So, while of course more needs to be done, our close cooperation with the platforms and civil society is yielding first results.
President-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, committed to further strengthen initiatives combatting antisemitism and illegal hate speech online, stating in Parliament that “A new Digital Services Act will upgrade our liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products and complete the Digital Single Market”.
Like in the real world, internet perpetrators must be taken to justice. This means capacity building among law enforcement agencies and better understanding of the different forms of antisemitism.
There has also been progress in the past five years beyond antisemitic and other hate speech: We saw the adoption of the 2018 Council declaration and 2017 Parliament resolution on antisemitism. Member States have committed among other to secure Jewish communities and to adopt holistic national strategies against antisemitism, to revise education tools and improve data collection of incidents. Since 2016, the IHRA definition is being adopted by an increasing number of countries inside and outside the EU.
But unless it is applied, little changes for the Jewish communities on the ground. We need trainers capable of explaining the IHRA definition to teachers, state prosecutors, judges, police, politicians, sports clubs, civil society. And we need this training in the language of the respective country. It is essential that public actors are fully aware just how much antisemitic conspiracy theories threaten our democracies – whether disguised as anti-Zionism or distortion of the Holocaust during public marches, whether hiding behind carnivals or caricatures in newspapers.
As European Commission we support this process by bringing together representatives from Member states and from the respective Jewish community. We started in June with discussing security of Jewish premises and to my astonishment, some representatives of the Jewish community acknowledged to me afterwards that they had spent more time with their state authorities at that meeting in Brussels than ever before. In December we will discuss in the same format education of Jewish life, antisemitism and the Shoah and in March 2020 the application of the IHRA definition. This will hopefully help member states to adopt their strategies on antisemitism by the end of 2020.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Antisemitism culminated in the Shoah and the European Union was built on its ashes, guaranteeing “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” (Art 2, Preamble)
We are aware of our responsibility. And we will live up to it.
Our goal remains: for Jewish Europeans to be able to make life choices like any other citizen, proud of their identity, their history and their contribution. Visible and safe Jewish life is the measurement of our success.
But for this success we have to work. As he saying goes: Bischvil kavod, anachu zarich laavod.
In January you will be hosting Heads of State and Government here in Jerusalem to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Revisionism and lack of education are threatening the common understanding of the pernicious uniqueness of the Shoah that is necessary to translate “Never Again” into concrete action today. The price was unspeakable high, and this I say as a German and a European, but there could hardly be a more symbolic and greater triumph over the Nazis than to mark this victory in Israel, the Jewish state.
Am Yisrael Chai!