Are Europe’s Jews safe?

The Action and Protection Foundation held an international conference in Budapest to mark the 5th anniversary of its activities. The nature, impact and potential risks of mass migration to Europe, the methodological issues of measuring anti-Semitism, and young people’s responsiveness to anti-Semitism and extremism were among the topics discussed by prominent Hungarian and international experts during the conference. Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr István Mikola, and Deputy State Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Csaba Latorcai, also attended the event.

In his opening speech, Secretary of the Action and Protection Foundation Kálmán Szalai highlighted that Executive Rabbi Slomó Köves initiated the establishment of the foundation five years ago to actively engage in the protection of Jewish compatriots who become victims of identity harm, as well as monitoring and taking action against hate incidents.

Executive Rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH) Slomó Köves said in his keynote speech that Jewish communities have long been locked into a negative mindset believing that the natural inclination to self-defence did not apply to Jewish people. Many thought that this was the business of „the great”: they would be protected by the state, by political parties, human rights activists, civil society organisations, or the great powers. Rabbi Köves also expressed his regret that they were often left alone when they needed help the most. Therefore, in his opinion, the Jewish community should start taking responsibility for their safety.

Slomó Köves explained: „Our activities are based on three pillars: responsibility, cooperation and action. By taking responsibility, I mean that it is harmful if we wait for others to help us when action needs to be taken against anti-Semitism. Therefore, APF takes a number of steps in line with this idea: we monitor anti-Semitic hate incidents every month, we conduct research on anti-Semitic attitudes every year in accordance with OSCE international standards, and in the last five years, we launched 87 legal proceedings in Hungary and the US and initiated four legislative amendments that were approved. We have also cooperated with both Hungarian and international organisations. There’s a Talmudic saying: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?’. Not only does this saying refer to our faith in the Lord and his help, but also to the fact that we need to be aware of our responsibilities; we should start taking action and ask for help from others who take the problems of Jewish communities seriously and who could become partners in our mission. We should not be self-important or distrustful. If we look for cooperation, we will find it, just as APF has found it – whether we are talking about international organisations like the Anti-Defamation League led by Andrew Srulevitch, the American Jewish Committee, or the London-based unit for Government and International Affairs of the Community Security Trust directed by Michael Whine. Still, on cooperation, we could mention András Kovács, Dániel Róna and Endre Hann, with whom we have been conducting research, as well as the positive attitude that the Ministry of Interior and the Prime Minister’s Office have towards us. We have also worked with various entities in the field of education and offered lectures at the National University of Public Service. Still, it may be even more important that we have been raising awareness of the dangers of anti-Semitism by teaching the younger generation in secondary schools.

The third pillar Rabbi Köves talked about was taking action. He said that the challenges of our time, the growth of Islamic fundamentalism – becoming a more serious issue in Europe due to the migration crisis –require action. According to Slomó Köves, the anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism of far-right organisations, usually concealed in movements of consumer protection and boycotts, should also be responded to. He mentioned that one of the most significant of such movements is the American BDS movement. Slomó Köves said it is Jobbik’s far-right ideology that poses the main problem in Hungary, against which the Action and Protection Foundation and its partners will continue to fight.

Director of International Jewish Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism of the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Rabbi Andrew Baker, said that only after communism could the countries in Eastern and Central Europe be engaged in an active politics of memory in relation to the Jewish community and the Holocaust. In that respect, Hungary is taking the lead in the field of education and in establishing museums, memorial sites and Jewish cultural centres. On the other hand, there seems to be a recent slowdown in this process – said Rabbi baker.

On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, State Secretary Dr István Mikola said that Hungary remained a safe place even amid the migration crisis and provides a secure home for the Jewish community, which is not going to change in the future. Deputy State Secretary for Priority Social Affairs of the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Csaba Latorcai, said that Europe today is rich but weak, and the problem is that it does not realise its weakness and is unable to counter it. Instead of strengthening their identities based on Jewish and Christian values, a number of European countries are about to throw away those values that have provided their resistance for centuries. In the meantime, anti-Semitism is growing, and the situation is particularly bad in the US and some of the big cities in Western Europe – said the Deputy State Secretary.

The conference’s first panel dealt with the nature, drivers and risk analysis of mass migration to Europe. The speakers and experts from different fields examined how the terror threat accompanying the phenomenon could be identified and countered and how the growing anti-Semitism resulting from Islamic fundamentalist movements could be marginalised. Speakers of the first panel, including chairman of APF Dániel Bodnár, agreed that although Jewish communities do not face a direct, physical threat in Hungary, anti-Semitic ideologies are still present in public life.

In the second panel, researchers Melissa Sonnino, András Kovács, Dániel Róna and Endre Hann discussed different methodologies for measuring anti-Semitism. The speakers tried to give answers to what statements and actions are categorised as anti-Semitism and how anti-Semitism could be examined and measured. According to one of the most interesting findings, approximately 10% of the Hungarian population was particularly responsive to anti-Semitic ideologies after the change of the regime, then in 2010 – mainly because members of Jobbik entered the National Assembly and, as a result, the party’s ideologies became more mainstream – this proportion suddenly rose to 20%.

The third part of the conference dealt with the correlation between education and prejudice. Speakers stated that education and raising awareness among members of the young generation who are uncertain about their worldviews and sets of values and are responsive to radical views are of key importance in the fight against anti-Semitism. Speakers of the third panel talked about anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Israelism and one of its most significant manifestations, the BDS movement. It was stated that the movement does not have a substantial number of supporters in Hungary and that more and more appropriate actions have been taken against the movement at universities in Western Europe, too. Director of Public Affairs and Communications at The Jewish Agency Yigal Palmor drew attention to the irrationality behind anti-Israelism when he said that members of the BDS movement attack a country that has posed them no harm. Alex Benjamin claimed in his speech that these days the UN treats Israel as a bastard child, while Assistant Director of ADL Andrew Srulevitch talked about how the number of anti-Semitic incidents has grown in the US, too, especially in university environments.

The whole conference is available on the following links:

TEV conference part 1.

TEV conference part 2.