Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” goes some way in describing our collective approach to fighting antisemitism. Despite our efforts, in Europe, hatred has reached levels not seen since the Holocaust. Indeed, in the first half of this year, the UK recorded 767 antisemitic attacks, the highest figure recorded since monitoring began in 1984, and a 30 per cent increase on 2016. Most disturbing is the increased number of violent assaults, recording a 78 per cent rise from the same period in 2016.
These figures are broadly replicated in Jewish communities throughout Europe, including France and Germany, bringing a new sense of urgency and severity to the situation.
Combatting this has traditionally focused on “minimisation” as opposed to eradication, but what we need is a paradigm shift in the way we fight this hatred. This includes being more proactive, smarter and more creative.
To achieve this, I believe there are five key areas of focus for all global citizens, not just the Jewish community:
First, we must push for adoption of a universal definition of antisemitism in Europe, which my organisation, the Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC) has advocated for some time now. Unless you can define it, you cannot defeat it.
It was most commendable that the UK became the first nation to adopt the all-encompassing International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism last year. This definition notes, amongst other things, that the delegitimisation of Israel and attacks on Zionism, can manifest as antisemitism.
A concerted focus on education is essential to any campaign to defeat antisemitism. This should not solely focus on the history of antisemitism, bigotry and the Holocaust, but build on the vital contribution of Jewish people and texts to life, culture and the prosperity of Europe. National governments need to ensure people are educated at a young age about what constitutes a hate crime, whilst making it easier to report instances of hate to the correct authority.
Nobody is born to hate – they learn to hate. If we can change this mindset from a young age, that can make a crucial difference.
Thirdly, we need to recognise that this form of subjugation is not unique to the Jewish people and that what starts with the Jews, never ends with the Jews. Today we also see hate and intolerance directed at many other minorities and parts of society and therefore the Jewish community must cooperate closely with other faith groups to generate best practice in dealing with hate.
As Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism has said, “fighting antisemitism must not be left to the Jews, but society as a whole.”
We need to be savvy about how we communicate these messages. The use of social media is critical.
The digital sphere has become a major battleground and platform for dissemination of hate and antisemitism, but it also represents an opportunity for us to reach new audiences. Therefore, while greater pro-active actions need to be taken to disrupt online hate, we must also utilise this platform for conveying our counter-message and personal narratives.
Given the growing importance of digital platforms, we must look to initiate a global debate on the roles and responsibilities of large technology firms. We cannot expect to influence the digital realm without their support.
By exposing hatred, and utilising pre-existing legal frameworks within various EU countries, we can look to shut down hate speech immediately, and hope that the full force of the law with dissuade others from similar acts.
In a landmark address before the European Parliament last year, former UK Chief Rabbi, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, described antisemitism as a “mutating virus.” It is high time we find an antidote to this virus.
We have the power to stop antisemitism and all forms of hate speech, and as technological innovations have added to these problems, they also provide us with opportunities to combat them. The EU was built on a foundation of tolerance and openness, and as this European project continues to struggle with the tensions borne between globalisation and identity, the fight against all forms of hate crime is especially pertinent right now. For this reason, governments must declare their support for such an approach whilst making resources available for the fight against all forms of hate crime.
This must be done proactively, if the very enterprise of the EU itself is to survive.
Vladimir Sloutsker is president of the Israel-Jewish Congress.