Netanyahu is picking the wrong friends in Europe
Heres something for Benjamin Netanyahu to consider: The Israeli prime minister should spend less time in Europe praising nationalists like Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán and more time listening to people in Brussels, like European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans.
Look at the recent Hungarian election. During his campaign, Orbán blamed his countrys problems on a Jewish financier, George Soros — and won, big time. After his victory, Orbán spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, said the attacks on Soros “could not possibly be anti-Semitic, since they were echoed by Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu visited Orbán last July, even though Hungarys Jewish community told him to stay away. After Orbáns election victory, he spoke with the Hungarian leader and tweeted congratulations: “Thank you, Prime Minister Orbán, for Hungarys support for Israel in international forums!”
And yet, this European Commission has done more to protect and promote Judaism than any of its predecessors. In speech after speech, Timmermans has underlined how only a Europe with Jews can fulfill the goal of a liberal, tolerant multiethnic and multinational Europe. “There is no Europe without the Jewish community,” is the line that Timmermans repeats.
Netanyahu has made clear his belief that Jews have no future in Europe and his desire for all of us to move to Israel.
The Commission has also taken a series of important concrete actions to support these words. Timmermans has named the first-ever European coordinator against anti-Semitism. He has pressed internet companies to combat online anti-Semitism. He calls out countries for trying to rehabilitate Holocaust war criminals and minimize their own guilt. And he has unlocked millions of euros in grants to fight anti-Semitism and finance interfaith initiatives.
Such strong Brussels support of European Judaism is new. In 1999, European Commission President Romano Prodi visited Auschwitz — and gave a speech with no mention of Jewish victims. Prodi wanted to mention Jews, but Commission officials involved remember that the issue was “too sensitive.” In 2004, Prodi cancelled a conference on anti-Semitism after Jewish groups accused Brussels of “moral treachery” for suppressing an EU-financed study that found Muslim minorities were at the heart of growing anti-Semitic attacks in Europe.
The European Parliament also deserves praise for its new support for European Judaism. In June 2017, the Parliament adopted its first-ever resolution condemning anti-Semitism. Among other conditions, it requires EU members to appoint national coordinators to combat anti-Semitism, to publicly condemn anti-Semitic statements and to promote education about the Holocaust.
This support of Europes Jewish communities from Brussels comes at a welcome time. Around Europe, the generation of Holocaust persecutors and survivors is dying out. Far-right populism is rising, and post-war anti-Semitic taboos are fading. Migration is bringing large numbers of Arabs harboring anti-Semitic sentiments. A 2012 study from the EUs Fundamental Rights Agency revealed high levels of anti-Semitism, and the agency is conducting a major follow-up survey this year to investigate discrimination and hate crime against Jews.
Most European countries continue to recognize followers of Orthodox Judaism as the only representatives of the Jewish people.
Amid this tense atmosphere, Israeli policy does not help. Netanyahu has made clear his belief that Jews have no future in Europe and his desire for all of us to move to Israel. My organization, the European Union of Progressive Judaism, disagrees. Jews have lived for thousands of years in Europe, and we believe that a strong Jewish presence is central to the establishment of a tolerant, multicultural Europe.
Although European institutions want to avoid intra-Jewish politics, they should ensure that all strains of Judaism are treated equally. Most European countries continue to recognize followers of Orthodox Judaism as the only representatives of the Jewish people. Orthodox communities alone receive government support. State support should also go to progressive, non-Orthodox Jewish movements.
In its effort to combat anti-Semitism, the Commission rightly prioritizes interfaith dialogue. Western Europes immigrant Muslim populations are the source of much of contemporary anti-Semitism in Western Europe. Our Emouna project, launched in France with the Institut de Sciences Politiques brings together rabbis, imams and priests to promote tolerance and inclusion and train religious leaders in how religion can work in harmony in a modern, democratic Europe.
Another priority is cracking down on online anti-Semitism. The Commission has signed an effective voluntary code of conduct with large social media companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and others. We aim to set up a monitoring system with our local synagogues to flag illegal anti-Semitic posts — and get them taken down.
For Europes Jews, this is the moment to act. We must fight Hungarian-style populist anti-Semitism in the East and Arab anti-Semitism in the West. In this battle, Brussels is our ally. Its time to engage with a Commission that has staked out a clear, positive engagement with Europes Jews.
William Echikson is head of the Digital Forum at the Centre for European Policy Studies and director of the European Union for Progressive Judaism office in Brussels.