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Top Jewish amd Swedish leaders celebrate local Jewish community

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Ahead of a landmark global conference, top Jewish and Swedish leaders joined at Malmö Synagogue today to celebrate the history and life of the local Jewish community, especially its resilience during a period of heightened antisemitism in the region.

The synagogue event, hosted by the World Jewish Congress, along with the Official

Council of Swedish Jewish Communities and the Jewish Community of Malmö, was held the day before the 13 October Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.

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The international forum, to be attended by heads of state or government of some 50 countries, will focus on identifying and implementing concrete steps to counter antisemitism and other forms of hatred and to advance Holocaust education and remembrance.

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Jewish communal leaders shared their insights at Tuesday’s synagogue gathering about the rich history of the Jews of Sweden and next steps in fighting current-day expressions of hatred against Jews at the local and national levels.

In his remarks at the synagogue, Amb. Lauder said:

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“I have been dealing with antisemitism since I became involved in the Jewish world. That’s most of my adult life. I’ve witnessed it, I’ve talked to too many victims of antisemitism. I’ve also been the target of it, myself. I have seen people lose their lives … because they happened to be Jewish.”

Amb. Lauder also said, “I am aware that a just and reasonable settlement must be found with the Palestinian people. I have pursued a two-state solution for years and I have never given up on this idea. Two states for two people is the only way that this long conflict can finally come to a just conclusion.”

He added, “All schoolchildren must learn about the Holocaust and understand how it came about and where hatred ultimately leads.” He went on to advocate for a national holiday on January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, for schools worldwide to teach about the Holocaust.

“There is still so much to be done. I am not naïve; I realize the hatred of Jews has been with us for 2,000 years and will never completely go away. But we can do everything in our power to keep this virus from spreading. We applaud the Swedish Prime Minister and the government for taking the first steps. And I thank you for your help with the Jewish community here in protecting its synagogues, its school and its people,” Amb. Lauder concluded.

In recent years, antisemitism has occurred regularly in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, especially in its schools, and has gained international attention. Sweden’s top leaders have pledged to devote resources to democracy-strengthening initiatives in schools and other educational venues. At the end of March 2022, the country will assume the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and has pledged to open the Swedish Museum of the Holocaust by July 2022.  

“This week we are gathering here in Malmö to remember history’s darkest chapter, humanity’s darkest chapter,” Löfven said. “It didn’t take place on Swedish soil; however, when Jews started leaving Germany following 1933, most countries, Sweden included, were reluctant to accept more than a handful of Jewish refugees.”

He also said: “Every Shabbat candle lit, every song in Yiddish or Ladino and every Swedish Jew who wears a kippah or a Star of David with pride is a stance against hate.”

Dr. Nachman Shai, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, told the audience that Israel stood behind the Malmö Jewish community.

“It is the right of every Jewish individual to live full and proud Jewish lives wherever they choose,” he said. “Additionally, you should have the opportunity to proudly and actively have relationships with Israel … without being questioned.”

Ann Katina, chair of the Jewish Community of Malmö, emceed the ceremony while discussing the vibrant history of Jewish life in Malmö. The community will celebrate its 150th anniversary next month.

“Jewish life in Sweden is more than antisemitism,” Katina said, adding that a Jewish learning center will open in the synagogue “with the aim of increasing the knowledge of Jewish culture, religion, history, the Holocaust and antisemitism.”She joined Aron Verständig, Chair of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, in thanking the local community for its support and dedication to education.

Immediately after the close of the Oct. 13 forum, Amb. Lauder and Prime Minister Löfven will join a Holocaust survivor representing the Malmö Jewish community to reflect on the proceedings and to continue the conversation about how to end antisemitism. Media wishing to attend this event must already be credentialed to attend the Malmö Forum.

After Wednesday’s conference, WJC’s international meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA) will convene to exchange views, share best practices and policies and evaluate progress in the shared fight against antisemitism. The SECCA forum comprises officials tasked with combating antisemitism, with participants from dozens of countries and from such organizations as the European Commission, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations.

About the World Jewish Congress

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) is the international organization representing Jewish communities in 100 countries to governments, parliaments and international organizations.

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Anti-semitism

French Jewish leader: ‘While the European institutions and politicians devote significant resources and spare no effort in the fight against anti-Semitism, the situation in Europe is not improving. Worse, it is deteriorating’

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"While the European institutions and politicians devote significant resources and spare no effort in the fight against anti-Semitism, the situation in Europe is not improving. Worse, it is deteriorating," said Joel Mergui (pictured), president of the Central Israelite Consistory of France as he addressed on Tuesday (12 October) a conference in Brussels of Jewish leaders organized by the European Jewish Association (EJA), writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

"It is time to face the facts. Combating anti-Semitism cannot be reduced to isolating and penalizing anti-Semitic acts. This penalty is of course essential. Perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts should not never go unpunished. But for it to be truly effective, the fight against anti-Semitism must get to the root of the problem," he added.

Mergui said that Europe must launch concrete initiatives in the field of education to combat anti-Jewish stereotypes. "It must also value the heritage and the contribution of Judaism and remind ceaselessly that Jewish spirituality is an integral part of European culture."

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His remarks came as a new comprehensive survey of antisemitic prejudices in 16 European countries was unveiled ahead of the conference. The survey results appear to be rather disturbing. The Action and Protection League (AP)– partners of the EJA – commissioned the survey with IPSOS SA, under the leadership of Professor András Kovács of Central European University in Vienna-Budapest, taking in 16 European countries and asking respondents direct questions, and following up where seemed necessary. The countries polled are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Amongst the disturbing figures are: Nearly one third of respondents in Austria, Hungary and Poland said Jews will never be able to fully integrate into society. Nearly one third agreed that there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world. (Romania – 29%; France – 28%; Czech Republic – 23% ). In Spain, 35% said Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians; 29% said the same in the Netherlands; and 26% agreed with the statement in Sweden. In Latvia, just over a third – 34% – said Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes; 23% agreed in Germany; and 22% agreed in Belgium. A quarter of all those surveyed agreed with the statement that Israel’s policies make them understand why some people hate Jews.

“Jews around Europe need to propose specific action-plans to their governments as well as on the EU level,” said Rabbi Shlomo Koves, founder of APL and initiator of the survey. “We need to take our fate into our hands if we want our grandchildren to be able to live in Europe in 20-50 years from now,” he added.

The two-day Brussels conference was attended by dozens of prominent European Jewish leaders, parliamentarians, and diplomats from across the continent, including EU Commission Vice-President Margiritis Schinas, as well as the President of Israel Isaac Herzog and the Minister for Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai who will address the gathering from Jerusalem. The European Commission last week presented the first-ever EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.

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With antisemitism worryingly on the rise, in Europe and beyond, the strategy intends to set out a series of measures articulated around three pillars: to prevent all forms of antisemitism; to protect and foster Jewish life and to promote research, education and Holocaust remembrance.

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Anti-semitism

Commission presents first-ever EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life

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The European Commission has presented the first-ever EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life. With antisemitism worryingly on the rise, in Europe and beyond, the Strategy sets out a series of measures articulated around three pillars: to prevent all forms of antisemitism; to protect and foster Jewish life; and to promote research, education and Holocaust remembrance. The Strategy proposes measures to step up cooperation with online companies to curb antisemitism online, better protect public spaces and places of worship, set up a European research hub on contemporary antisemitism and create a network of sites where the Holocaust happened. These measures will be reinforced by the EU's international efforts to lead the global fight against antisemitism.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today we commit to fostering Jewish life in Europe in all its diversity. We want to see Jewish life thriving again in the heart of our communities. This is how it should be. The Strategy we are presenting today is a step change in how we respond to antisemitism. Europe can only prosper when its Jewish communities feel safe and prosper.”

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas added: “Antisemitism is incompatible with EU values and with our European way of life. This strategy – the first of its kind - is our commitment to combat it in all its forms and to ensure a future for Jewish life in Europe and beyond. We owe it to those who perished in the Holocaust, we owe it to the survivors and we owe it to future generations.”

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Towards a European Union free from antisemitism

The Strategy sets out measures focusing on: (1) preventing and combating all forms of antisemitism; (2) protecting and fostering Jewish life in the EU; and (3) education, research and Holocaust remembrance. These measures are complemented by the EU's international efforts to address antisemitism globally.

Some of the key measures in the Strategy include:

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  • Preventing and combating all forms of antisemitism: Nine out of ten Jews consider that antisemitism has increased in their country, with 85% considering it a serious problem. To address this, the Commission will mobilise EU funds and support Member States in designing and implementing their national strategies. The Commission will support the creation of a Europe-wide network of trusted flaggers and Jewish organisations to remove illegal online hate speech. It will also support the development of narratives countering antisemitic content online. The Commission will cooperate with industry and IT companies to prevent the illegal display and selling of Nazi-related symbols, memorabilia and literature online.
  • Protecting and fostering Jewish life in the EU: 38% of Jews have considered emigrating because they do not feel safe as Jews in the EU. To ensure that Jews feel safe and can participate fully in European life, the Commission will provide EU funding to better protect public spaces and places of worship. The next call for proposals will be published in 2022, making available €24 million. Member States are also encouraged to make use of Europol's support regarding counter terrorism activities, both online and offline. To foster Jewish life, the Commission will take measures to safeguard Jewish heritage and raise awareness around Jewish life, culture and traditions.
  • Education, research and Holocaust remembrance: Currently, one European in 20 has never heard of the Holocaust. To keep the memory alive, the Commission will support the creation of a network of places where the Holocaust happened, but which are not always known, for instance hiding places or shooting grounds. The Commission will also support a new network of Young European Ambassadors to promote remembrance of the Holocaust. With EU funding, the Commission will support the creation of a European research hub on contemporary antisemitism and Jewish life, in cooperation with Member States and the research community. To highlight Jewish heritage, the Commission will invite cities applying for the title of European Capital of Culture to address the history of their minorities, including Jewish community history.

The EU will use all available tools to call on partner countries to combat antisemitism in the EU neighbourhood and beyond, including through cooperation with international organisations. It will ensure that EU external funds may not be misallocated to activities that incite hatred and violence, including against Jewish people. The EU will strengthen EU-Israel cooperation in the fight against antisemitism and promote the revitalisation of Jewish heritage worldwide.

Next Steps

The Strategy will be implemented over the period 2021-2030. The Commission invites the European Parliament and the Council to support the implementation of the strategy and will publish comprehensive implementation reports in 2024 and 2029. Member States have already committed to preventing and fighting all forms of antisemitism through new national strategies or measures under existing national strategies and/or action plans on preventing racism, xenophobia, radicalisation and violent extremism. National strategies should be adopted by the end of 2022 and will be assessed by the Commission by end of 2023.

Background

This strategy is the EU's commitment to a future for Jewish life in Europe and beyond. It marks the Commission's political engagement for a European Union free from antisemitism and any form of discrimination, for an open, inclusive and equal society in the EU.

Following the Fundamental Rights Colloquium on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred, in 2015, the Commission appointed its first-ever Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life. In June 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on combating antisemitism. In December 2018, the Council adopted a Declaration on the fight against antisemitism. In December 2019, the fight against antisemitism became part of the portfolio of the Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, signalling the intention to address it as a crosscutting priority. In December 2020, the Council adopted a further Declaration centered on mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism across policy areas.

Many of the policy areas linked to combating antisemitism are primarily national responsibilities. However, the EU has an important role in providing policy guidance, coordinating actions by Member States, monitoring implementation and progress, providing support via EU funds, and promoting the exchange of good practice between Member States. To this end, the Commission will make its existing ad hoc Working Group on combating antisemitism into a permanent structure, bringing together Member States and Jewish communities.

For More Information

EU Strategy on Combatting Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life

Factsheet on EU Strategy on Combatting Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life

Questions & Answers

Combatting antisemitism website

Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life

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Anti-semitism

Parliament Committee approves funding cut to PA over incitement to hatred and antisemitism in Palestinian school textbooks

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The European Parliament committee on budgets adopted on Tuesday (28 September) an amendment to the 2022 EU budget to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority (PAà and to UNWRA, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East, over hateful, violent and antisemitic content in Palestinian school textbooks, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

The amendment withholds €20 million to Palestinian education until the PA and UNRWA make immediate revisions to textbooks used by Palestinian students by the next school year.

The textbook changes must include improvements that promote coexistence with and tolerance towards the Jewish-Israeli other and education about peace with Israel. If there is no change, the reserve will be used to fund NGO’s that  promote tolerance, coexistence, and respect for the Israeli other in school settings.

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The amendment was tabled by the Committee on Budgets Vice-Chairman, Belgian MEP Olivier Chastel of the center-liberal Renew Europe political group with the support of committee co-Vice Chairman, German MEP Niclas Herbst of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the parliament.

“Many Palestinian textbooks continue to violate UNESCO standards for peace, tolerance and non-violence in education. They spread hatred against Israel and anti-Semitism. If the textbooks are not revised, the withheld funds should go to NGOs that adhere to UNESCO standards. Parliament approved this proposal today. With 20 million euros, more than 5 percent are withheld. This is a great success and the right signal that the books must finally be revised! No hatred against Israel should be taught,” Herbst stated.

The committee is now set to pass the ratified 2022 budget to plenary in two weeks, where it will be voted upon.

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EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who oversees bilateral relations and distributes aid to the PA and UNRWA, has repeatedly suggested that the EU may choose to cut funding to the Palestinian education sector over the misuse of European donations.

A recent report commissioned by the EU found that the PA curriculum contains antisemitism, violence, glorification of terrorism, and other content which violates international UNESCO standards for peace and tolerance in education. The study was spurred by IMPACT’s research and briefings about the issue.

Earlier this month, MEPs stated their opposition to funding hate in the PA education system in three separate parliamentary meetings; in the foreign affairs committee, the head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini,  acknowledged that his organization identified antisemitism and glorification of terror in the books used by UNRWA students.

But several members of the committee questioned him on continued teaching of hate, violence and antisemitism in the textbooks and UNRWA materials, citing a recent report by IMPACT-se,  an organization that analyzes schoolbooks and curricula for compliance with UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance. on the textbooks.

IMPACT-se played also a role in the initiation and adoption of the PA funding cut  adopted on Tuesday.

‘’This is a crucial measure which speaks volumes about the ongoing frustration felt by European lawmakers, who are simply no longer prepared to fund the teaching of hate in Palestinian classrooms,’’ said Marcus Sheff, IMPACT-se CEO.

He added, ‘’They are rightly demanding that Palestinian children are taught about tolerance, coexistence, and respect. Sadly, this does not look likely: just last week, Palestinian President Abbas made it crystal clear in his United Nations General Assembly address that the PA will not change the textbooks. He must know that has a price and that he cannot expect donors to pay and pay while they insist on their right to teach hate.’’

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