Top EU officials sound alarm over renewed rise of anti-Semitism

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Anti-Semitism is back on the rise in Europe, top EU officials warned Thursday, as they kicked off two days of talks on how to tackle hatred in Europe against Jews and Muslims.

“In the last couple of years, you’ve seen this age-old monster come up again in Europe, which is anti-Semitism,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in Brussels.

“I thought we knew better,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought this would be possible 20 years ago, but it’s happening again.”

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova spoke of a “rising tendency and rises in intensity of anti-Semitic actions.”

A report by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency showed this week that the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents rose last year in nearly all of the 14 European countries where such data is available.

For example, the official number of anti-Semitic offences in Austria increased from 37 in 2013 to 58 last year. Incidents jumped from 535 to 1,168 in Britain, according to non-governmental data.

There were also rises in Germany and France, but the Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency noted a downward trend in such incidents over the past decade in both countries.

An agency spokeswoman said her agency was unable to declare any EU-wide trend because so few countries collect relevant data.

The rights agency warned, however, that “the social and political climate is growing ever more tolerant of extremist, racist and xenophobic agendas.”

Such political platforms were exploiting people’s fears about employment and security and connecting them with the issue of terrorism and other geopolitical challenges, the agency said, based on a constant monitoring of political statements in EU countries.

Meanwhile, a new Eurobarometer survey, conducted in the EU on behalf of the European Commission and released Thursday, found that 50 per cent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or beliefs to be “widespread,” up from 39 per cent three years earlier.

Three per cent of the 27,700 people surveyed in May and June reported feeling discriminated against or harassed on the basis of religion or beliefs in the previous 12 months.

Islamophobia is among the phenomena on the rise in Europe, Timmermans warned, describing it as a “new” trend.

“I … know of girls who told me themselves that they now no longer wear a headscarf because they are afraid of being harassed, and I think that’s a horrible thing,” he said.

“If people consider wearing a headscarf part of their identity, their culture or their religion, they should have the right in a free society like the European [one] to wear the headscarf,” he said.

Anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and how to address both phenomena will be debated during a two-day colloquium held by the commission, the EU’s executive body, in Brussels starting Thursday.

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