From the desk of R. Amy Elman

9780803255418R. Amy Elman is the Weber Professor in Social Science at Kalamazoo College, Michigan. She is the author of Sexual Equality in an Integrated Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and Sexual Subordination and State Intervention: Comparing Sweden and the United States (Berghahn Books, 1996). Her latest book, The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial (Univeristy of Nebraska Press, 2015) is copublished with the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism.

My recent book, The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial explores the history and consequences of the European Union’s response to antisemitism, particlarly in the aftermath of 9/11 and the rise of Islamic extremism. By considering the EU’s varied responses to and subsequent effects on conditions in Sweden and Austria, I engage the primary question that motivates my work: what role, if any, does the EU have in mitigating discrimination in general and antisemitism in particular?

While one might wish to construe the European Union’s democratic rhetoric, political institutions, and resulting policies as a potentially robust deterrence against antisemitism, key EU political actors rarely regard Jews as sufficiently oppressed to warrant their interventions. Sadly, this conclusion is epitomized by the recent events in France, where antisemitism has once again turned lethal.

Last month that France experienced its most murderous terrorist attacks in two decades. These attacks claimed seventeen lives, nearly one third of whom were Jewish. The Islamic brothers who slaughtered a dozen people at the editorial offices of the satirical monthly Charlie Hebdo had synchronized their plans with a third man who, two days later, murdered several Jews in a kosher supermarket hours before the Jewish Sabbath. President François Hollande denounced this later carnage as an “appalling act of antisemitism,” and his Prime Minister pledged to make the fight against it a “major national cause.” This laudable national goal is unlikely to succeed because the ability of member states to take independent action has declined within the context of European integration. And, while concerted action is needed against a global network of terrorists whose ambitions are transnational, the EU’s leaders have repeatedly demonstrated that they are ill-suited to pursue this task. Indeed, their unwillingness even to acknowledge the threat of antisemitism renders the region more vulnerable to its lethal consequences.

Let us consider the response of key EU political actors to the massacres in France. When the EU’s culture ministers met a day after the supermarket killings, they issued a unanimous condemnation of the “intolerance and ignorance” that led to the “senseless barbarity” of the Charlie Hebdo murders. Their statement made no mention of those Jews who were murdered for being Jews. Instead, their condemnation was strikingly similar to the one issued by President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission, prior to the attack on kosher supermarket. Calling the murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices “an intolerable act, an act of barbarism which challenges us all as humans and Europeans,” Juncker expressed his solidarity with France. He did not, however, issue any additional public statement after the second attack expressing similar solidarity with Jews.  With few exceptions,[1] his colleagues also remained conspicuously silent, even after they learned about the supermarket murders.

This pattern of indifference toward lethal antisemitism was as pronounced in the statement issued by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the EU agency charged with countering discrimination (including antisemitism). After proclaiming “Je suis Charlie,” the FRA website reads: “Following the attacks on the editorial offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the subsequent hostage crises in Paris, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, on behalf of the Network of European Union Agencies, expresses its horror at the crime and its sympathy with all those close to the victims.”  Ironically, the statement represents the kind of obscurantism Charlie Hebdo rejected. As Professor Robert Zaretsky notes, the Jews at the HyperCacher market were “no more hostages than the victims at Charlie Hebdo were insurance adjustors.”

“The latter were killed,” he explains, “because they were cartoonists, while the former were executed because they were Jews.” (see The Forward article here).

What then are effective means of redress within a more integrated Europe in the aftermath of escalating prejudice? My book considers the possibilities by first exposing how the seemingly favorable responses of the EU and its member states to the terror of antisemitism have actually hindered more than helped efforts to end it. We need to see through the veneer of ostensibly supportive proclamations, policies and programs, so that we are better positioned to perceive the more subtle manifestations of bigotry against Jews and the threat to democracy that results from it.

-R. Amy Elman


[1] I found two. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, issued her condolences in a brief press statement immediately following after her meeting with a delegation of the European Jewish Congress on January 14, 2015.  Two days earlier, the European Parliament had a moment of silence for all 17 victims.

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