UN debate on Europe’s rising antisemitism

Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, announces planned report on antisemitism for September 2019.

GENEVA, December 17, 2019 — Country delegates and NGO activists gathered at the UN today to discuss rising antisemitism in Europe in light of sobering statistics released last week by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union (FRA). Experts and attendees discussed trends and proposed actionable steps to combat antisemitism both within and beyond the UN system at the panel event, which was organized by Austria, Germany, and Israel.
Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, opened the event, emphasizing the importance of protecting Europe’s Jewish communities.
Yoel Mester, Israel’s deputy ambassador in Geneva stated that prejudice against Jews runs deep in society and takes many forms. Acknowledging the problem is just the first step, he noted, and it is now crucial to define the problem and bring about decisive government actions to combat these trends.
FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty detailed major findings from the survey. Notably, 38% of European Jews are considering emigrating and that 85% of those surveyed identified antisemitism as the biggest threat to their livelihoods.
O’Flaherty said that this was the largest survey of its kind ever attempted, using interview data from 16,300 Jews from 12 EU member states. He emphasized the need for replication in other settings to ensure that policymakers use data-based approaches to alleviate discrimination.
He then called on EU states to take action by increasing state-funded physical security measures for Jews, creating effective national plans of action, building up trust with Jewish communities, and bolstering education, specifically focusing on the remembrance of the Holocaust.
“We need to put fresh energy into education. It’s been done, but it needs to be re-done for every generation,” O’Flaherty said, highlighting the need for new educational approaches, as many communities lose their remaining Holocaust survivors.
Panelist Ahmed Shaheed, UN expert on freedom of religion or belief, discussed the need to increase documentation of antisemitism, especially as the FRA report suggests that the vast majority of antisemitic incidents go unreported.
In order to increase awareness, Shaheed announced that he will be presenting a thematic report to the UN on antisemitism next September. This report will be the first of its kind coming from his office. While he noted that his mandate has limited resources, he emphasized that the UN should increase its role in combatting antisemitism globally.
“The UN should do and could do more to contribute,” Shaheed said.
Shaheed also acknowledged the collapse in trust between Jewish organizations and UN institutions based on a history of opposing Israel including the 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution.
He noted that it is crucial to “reach out to those people” who view antisemitism with this bias and “find a meeting point to raise awareness and demand accountability.” He said that he looks forward to doing so during his consultation process.
Michaela Kuechler, German Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organizations at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, discussed the need for new pedagogical approaches for combating a shift in causes of antisemitism, especially in migrant Muslim communities that feel distant from the Holocaust.
“It is helpful to approach [minorities] by their own experience as being a victim,” she said. “Then you can speak to them about antisemitism and try to find a process to educate them.”
Following the panel, delegates shared their countries’ progress and setbacks related to combating antisemitism, discussing different educational tools, methods to share best practices, and the responsibility of individual states in protecting their citizen’s rights.
Kuechler concluded by shared the importance of cultural inclusion of Jewish traditions and practices within mainstream society in order to improve visibility and understanding.
“[The Jewish community] has been there for thousands of years,” she said. “We want it to be there. I don’t want to live in a Europe where Jews want to emigrate.”

UN Watch