EJC Executive Vice-President & CEO Raya Kalenova delivered a keynote speech at the Plenary of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an EU advisory body comprising representatives of workers’ and employers’ organisations and other interest groups.
For the first time, the EESC dedicated a plenary session to the issue of rising antisemitism in Europe. This was also the last EESC Plenary before the European elections.
EESC President Luca Jahier opened the session emphasising that year 2018 saw the biggest increase of antisemitic incidents in decades.
This has created a feeling of insecurity that affects all aspects of everyday life. “What can we do to protect the fundamental foundation of the EU, an open culture which lies at the core of our identity? What can we do to counter antisemitism? We must act now!” said Mr. Jahier.
In her keynote speech, Raya Kalenova expressed the feelings of Jewish communities and individuals regarding antisemitism: “It has been a shock to witness how easily antisemitism has become part of public discourse. The insults and conspiracy theories that our grandparents once heard are back on the streets, in the media and sometimes even in our Parliaments”.
Stressing that the fight against antisemitism must not only come from governments, but from civil society Ms. Kalenova stated: “Employers, trade unions and civil society have a responsibility to their colleagues and employees to guarantee their wellbeing. This means rejecting, denouncing and sanctioning antisemitism whenever it happens.”
“All too often, organisations fail to take action against antisemitic incidents because they fail to identify them as such. We cannot counter antisemitism if we do not have a common definition. If you cannot name the disease, you will not be able to cure it,” she added.
“Therefore, I would like to call on this Committee, and on all trade unions, employers and civil society organisations to endorse and apply the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.”
Ms. Kalenova emphasised that antisemitism is no longer only a threat to the Jewish community: “In less than two weeks, Europe will hold elections and face a decisive moment. Radicals are gaining strength, and the forces of moderation have become fragile. Our democracies have come once again under threat by populism, intolerance and xenophobia”, she stated.
“In the words of our President, Moshe Kantor, radical forces have tested how far they can go with impunity through antisemitism. This has encouraged them to move on and destabilise the very foundations of our democracies with the ultimate goal of taking executive power,” Ms. Kalenova continued.
“The European project was born on the ashes of the death camps as a rejection of the horrors of the Shoah and a commitment to never forget where hatred and intolerance can lead. 75 years after the Holocaust, we must act urgently as Jewish life is threatened to disappear from the continent.”
“It is essential to strengthen Europe, and organised civil society has always been its fortress. That is why we are ready to give all our energy to promote a strong, prosperous and democratic Europe,” she concluded.
The keynote speech was followed by contributions from Prof. Michał Bilewicz of Warsaw University and Prof. Joël Kotek of the Free University of Brussels (ULB), who provided insights from their research on antisemitism.
During the debate, EESC the plenary listened attentively. Subsequently, EESC President Jahier open the floor to EESC members
Several EESC members delivered passionate remarks, in which they outlined their determination to combat antisemitism and the receptiveness of broader civil society to the concerns of Jewish communities, and their willingness to help develop solutions in the fight against antisemitism, stressing that fighting antisemitism and fighting for Europe are the same in terms of underlying values and ethical convictions.
Click here to watch the EESC plenary session on antisemitism.