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Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you at your gathering today. It is always a pleasure to exchange views with people who are equally interested and committed, and I look forward to our discussion.
Let me begin by making some personal remarks: Commemorating the Holocaust as well as fighting anti‑Semitism and all forms of discrimination have been on my personal agenda for many years. Some of you might know that I am a member of the board of trustees of the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Since I took office as German Minister of State for Europe in December 2013, I have been in contact with many representatives of Jewish communities whenever I travel across Europe – be it in Thessaloniki, in Vienna or in Budapest.
My Ministry has initiated a number of projects to strengthen Jewish life all over Europe. Our message is clear: Jewish life has its place at the heart of our societies.
But sadly enough, during recent months we have witnessed a new wave of anti-Semitism all over the world. A 2014 survey by the Anti-Defamation League has found anti-Semitic attitudes in an average of 26 percent of the population of 102 countries worldwide. ADL says that all in all this corresponds to a billion people.
Unfortunately, Germany is no exception to this general picture: it is worrying that stereotypes regarding Jewish people are still prevalent here. And it is not only about attitudes. There is also an alarming trend in terms of anti‑Semitic crimes: between 2001 and 2013 almost 20 000 anti-Semitic crimes were committed in Germany – leaving more than 500 people injured.
I am deeply alarmed by the increasing number of attacks against Jewish facilities and by the use of anti-Semitic slogans in demonstrations in many countries, including Germany. We were all shocked by the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, where innocent people were killed simply because they were Jewish. Scenes we thought we would never see again have become reality.
It is hard to believe and impossible to accept that the phenomena of anti-Semitism still exists in the heart of Europe after the Shoah. We are currently looking back at the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück 70 years ago, in April 1945. This reminds us how closely commemorating the Holocaust and fighting against anti-Semitism in the present are linked to each other.
Let me be clear: anti‑Semitism is a threat not only to Jewish communities, but to our society as a whole. There is no justification for it, neither in Germany nor in any other place in the world. In 2015, no one should have to live in fear because of their ethnicity, faith or sexual identity.
Because of its historical responsibility for the Holocaust, Germany fights and will always fight anti‑Semitism and any other form of discrimination against minorities. For me, this is definitely not a question of routine, but rather a top political priority.
Let me give you one example: In January, my French colleague Harlem Désir and I participated in an extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. For the first time in its history the General Assembly came together to discuss the fight against anti‑Semitism. The majority of states were represented by their ambassadors. Germany and France were represented at ministerial level! By joining this meeting we wanted to set an example: Safeguarding our values and promoting tolerant, open and democratic societies is crucial – perhaps now more than ever.
The recent events all over Europe show that we need to take decisive measures in our fight against anti‑Semitism. First, we do everything in our power to ensure that offenders are prosecuted and brought to justice. In addition, we take a number of preventive measures, ranging from research and analysis to educational programmes and improved integration work, in order to promote tolerance, understanding and social cohesion.
We have to take action at both the national and European level. We should leave no doubt that the European Union pursues a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and discrimination of minorities. This is also a question of credibility if the European Union wants to be regarded as a community of values. When raising our voices to protect minorities in other parts of the world it is essential that we set a good example by living up to our ideals at home.
The European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers have made that very clear on many occasions. But we have to admit that the European Union has little authority to combat anti‑Semitism – this task lies with the member states.
Nevertheless the Union has taken various initiatives:
First: A major achievement in the struggle for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms was the establishment of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, located in Vienna. The Agency plays an important role in collecting data on anti‑Semitism, which were not available before, and in raising awareness for this phenomenon.
In 2013 the Agency published a survey on anti-Semitism in the European Union, conducted in eight EU member states which are home to more than 90 percent of the Jewish population in Europe.
It produced some very disturbing results:
• 73 percent of the respondents say that anti-Semitism has worsened in the country where they live over the previous five years.
• 26 percent of all respondents experienced at least one incident involving verbal insult or harassment because they were Jewish. 4 percent even experienced physical violence or threats of violence.
• 30 percent of the respondents think about leaving their country because they no longer feel secure.
I am sure that if the Agency conducted the survey today the results would be the same, if not worse. It is good to have institutions like the Fundamental Rights Agency, which bring up painful issues like anti-Semitism again and again and force politics to take measures.
Second: The most important legal instrument on which the European Union and its member states have based their anti-Semitism policies is the Racial Equality Directive of June 2000. Its aim is to establish a framework for combating discrimination and breath life into the principle of equal treatment in the EU member states. It operates alongside the Employment Equality Directive, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, and the Gender Equality Directive.
Ten years of application of the directive show that progress has been made through the adoption of new or the strengthening of existing instruments to combat discrimination in the member states. But several challenges remain. We have to raise awareness on both sides, amongst the national authorities as well as the victims. Victims often do not complain because they’re not aware of the rights the directive gives them.
Third: Likewise, the European Commission will take up the issue of anti-Semitism in October 2015 at a high level conference in which I will most probably participate.
Fourth: The General Affairs Council of the European Union decided in December last year to establish a mechanism for safeguarding the rule of law and fundamental rights. This new mechanism is not directly related to anti-Semitism, but it will improve the EU’s credibility in standing up for its values. Thus, the EU can no longer be accused of not keeping its own house in order. The discussions provided for in the mechanism will take place in the Council once a year. We expect the first discussion to take place during the Luxemburg Presidency in the second half of 2015.
Europe is facing huge challenges. The success of populist movements in many EU member states, which are often accompanied by anti-Semitic, anti‑Muslim or anti‑Romani sentiment, is alarming. It shows that a rising number of EU citizens are turning away from our common values and the consensus that freedom, equality and tolerance stand above everything.
The German government is taking decisive measures together with our European partners. But I am fully aware that politicians and governments will not be able to fight anti-Semitism and discrimination alone. It affects us all – not only governments. Each and every one of us can help combat anti-Semitism and unmask prejudices towards Jewish people.
I am glad that we have such strong and active partners like AJC at our side that support us in our fight for mutual respect and tolerance.
We do not want Jewish communities to be sheltered minorities in need of protection. We want them to be a part of everyday life at the heart of our society. Only when Jewish facilities no longer need special protection will we have restored normality. We will not stop until we achieve this aim.