15/09/2021

EUJS President addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

EUJS President addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Dear members of the Commission on Equality and Non-Discrimination,

Dear Parliamentarians,


My name is Elias Dray and I am the President of the European Union of Jewish Students, the umbrella organisation, peer-led and democratic representation of 160.000 young Jews from 36 countries across Europe.


Let me start by stating the obvious: antisemitism is a daily reality for young European Jews. When it is not physical harm, or slurs, it spreads online. Antisemitism in Europe has a long-standing history of prejudices deeply entrenched in European society, and contemporary antisemitism has many sources: fascists & Neo-Nazis, the far-right, some far-left movements and Islamism. It has many manifestations, and the most common are conspiracy myths, traditional stereotypes such as "Jews are rich", double-standards or demonisation. In fact, throughout the COVID-19 Crisis and until now, conspiracy myths and radical, racist ideologies have considerably been relayed by far-right activists. Lately, antisemitism has skyrocketed in what we could call the "normal" society, not confined to extremists anymore, as we have seen from antivax protests in France and Germany.


In 2019, following advocacy by EUJS, the EU Fundamental Right Agency survey on Perceptions and experiences of antisemitism of Young Jewish Europeans outlined striking findings. I wish to share some of them with you.


First of all, Young Jews are more likely to experience antisemitism. In 2018, 45% had experienced it personally. — This means that every second young Jew you meet in Europe has experienced antisemitism.


87% of young European Jews said it had increased over the five years prior to 2018 — I don't think the answers would be different if asked in 2021. According to the FRA again, 89% of my peers said that antisemitism on the internet, including social media, was a problem in their country. Finally, 97% of young European Jews think their government does not combat antisemitism in an effective way. 97%. This is where, you, parliamentarians from 47 European states can act and have the responsibility to act.


Another of the most insidious manifestations of antisemitism in 2021 are those that derive from anti-Israel hatred. — In May 2021, synagogues were attacked, Jews were directly, violently targeted, calls to murder occurred during protests. And Young Jews were the first to experience it, they were standing at the frontlines. This was a global phenomenon, and Europe was no exception.

The picture was no happier online: together with my peers, we felt it was impossible to have a sensible discussion, to expose or express our opinions without fear of backlash. This was reinforced in universities.


As a matter of fact, for sharing my own personal opinions for peace, and for supporting a two-state solution, a student from my university called me "a disgrace to my ancestors and my deceased" and told I was "in fact, no different from my latter enemies", that is, a nazi. For supporting a two-state solution. This is just one of thousands of similar experiences of online hate directed towards fellow Jewish students.


The current polarisation of our political environment only fuels expressions of antisemitism. Two examples:
- In 2017, after Trump's announcement to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a synagogue was attacked with molotov cocktails in Gothenburg, Sweden, while a Chanukkah event was being held for young Swedish Jews. By a miracle only, no one was hurt.
- Shortly after after Trump's announcement to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017, in 2018, one of the French Union of Jewish Students' office in the Sorbonne, Paris, was vandalised with antisemitic and antizionist slurs. This is very, very common for Jewish organisations. Which is also a reason why most of them hide their address.


All this adds up to the following additional findings from FRA:
- 37% of Young Jews feel more insecure when there are heightened tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and
- 40% of those who experienced physical or online antisemitic harassment said it happened during a period of tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


As you can see from the existing data and from the examples, young European Jews are much more likely to be the victims of antisemitism and hatred, [especially on the online sphere. As such, the effects of the rise of antisemitism directly impact the lives of young Jews,] which is why combating antisemitism is of primary importance.


Let me now share a few recommendations for this Commission and the Parliamentary Assembly.


First of all, to address the issue we must clearly define it. CoE member states should adopt the IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism in order to ensure proper reporting for antisemitic offenses. Antisemitism cases are under-reported, states the FRA report. Antisemitism is particularly virulent in academia and EUJS has put forward a guide on "How To Support Your Jewish Students", which recommends that proper reporting mechanisms be set up. As a recent example of academic antisemitism, I can quote Bristol's university teacher David Miller, who implied that his Jewish students were spies in the service of the State of Israel.


Secondly, CoE member states should acknowledge the heightened risks of antisemitic offenses during periods of tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Member states should ensure that their police and law enforcement authorities are sufficiently trained and prepared, so that violent acts can be prevented, as it affects young Jews drastically.


Thirdly, the CoE and its member states should address online antisemitism. We Jewish students know far too well of how rapidly this form of antisemitism is growing. Earlier in 2021, the French Union of Jewish Students was invited to a hearing here at the CoE in a Special Session, talking about the legal action taken against Twitter for its blatant lack of moderation. After such precedent, the CoE should engage in creating tools to effectively combat antisemitism online, and promote them to the wide variety of youth organisations it works with. —— More specifically, the CoE Advisory Council on Youth would highly benefit from antisemitism training, addressing the issues of antisemitism online. By mainstreaming good practices countering online antisemitism, the CoE can curb the present situation. This also includes, generally speaking, supporting civil society organisations and especially Jewish youth and/or student organisations that act effectively against online hatred.


Fourthly, the CoE and its member states should keep in mind that effectively combating antisemitism means promoting a positive image of Jewish life and a positive Jewish narrative — like the Council is doing through its European Routes of Jewish Heritage.


Finally, the CoE should take a comprehensive approach in its fight against antisemitism and always include the youth perspective to its work. The revised ECRI Policy Recommendation N°9 on Preventing and Combating Antisemitism presents high quality, comprehensive account of the work that can and should be done to counter antisemitism, but I regret that no specific focus is taken on young Jews, who, again, are the primary targets of antisemitism nowadays.


I can already commend the Secretariat of the Council of Europe on appointing a Special Representative on antisemitic, anti-Muslim and other forms of religious intolerance and hate crimes.


A final word: don't let the Jewish community be the only ones fighting antisemitism: I call on the members of this Commission to direct their efforts towards a CoE Strategy on combating antisemitism. The European Union of Jewish Students stands ready to help.


Thank you for your attention.

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