The Euro­pean Union, Anti­semitism, and Holo­caust Denial

R. Amy Elman

  • Review
By – May 11, 2015

In light of the wide­spread and ris­ing tide of anti-Semit­ic rhetoric and phys­i­cal vio­lence against Jews in Europe, this book is a time­ly read­ing. The Euro­pean Union was estab­lished in 1993 as an eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. The founders hoped to tame hyper­na­tion­al­ism and its ugly off­shoots racism, dis­crim­i­na­tion, xeno­pho­bia, and anti-Semi­tism. R. Amy Elman, a pro­fes­sor of social sci­ence at Kala­ma­zoo Col­lege, explores how and with what suc­cess the EU has pro­tect­ed Europe’s Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. From its begin­nings, a cen­tral EU agency has been tasked with col­lect­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing data on inci­dents that appear to devi­ate from Euro­pean values.”

Elman describes reports, pro­nounce­ments, and leg­isla­tive mea­sures that have been authored and enact­ed by the EU as a whole and by its twen­ty-eight mem­ber states. EU offi­cials and elites have tend­ed to view anti-Semi­tism as a phe­nom­e­non of past his­to­ry, and the new anti-Semi­tism” is rarely con­front­ed as a spe­cif­ic issue. EU agen­cies and mem­ber states are reluc­tant to call out the per­pe­tra­tors of today’s anti-Semi­tism. It is eas­i­er and more polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect to blame the usu­al sus­pects” — right-wing extrem­ists and neo-Nazi sympathizers.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this book is dif­fi­cult to fol­low, due to both the EU’s cum­ber­some struc­ture and the author’s unclear pre­sen­ta­tion. For exam­ple, the respon­si­bil­i­ties of indi­vid­ual agen­cies and the rela­tion­ships between agen­cies are poor­ly explained. Elman points out a glar­ing omis­sion in the EU’s approach: an orga­ni­za­tion-wide def­i­n­i­tion of anti­semitism has nev­er been offi­cial­ly adopt­ed. A work­ing def­i­n­i­tion was for­mu­lat­ed with the assis­tance of Euro­pean Jew­ish groups in 2005; this def­i­n­i­tion, which appears in the appen­dix, was qui­et­ly with­drawn from the EU website.

The author pro­vides use­ful in-depth case stud­ies of Aus­tria and Swe­den. Case study com­par­isons reveal unex­pect­ed con­clu­sions. Aus­tria, long con­sid­ered the fount of Jew hatred, a state which includ­ed for­mer Nazis in its post-World War II gov­ern­ments, was also the first mem­ber state to pass anti-Holo­caust denial leg­is­la­tion and was zeal­ous in enforc­ing such mea­sures against vio­la­tors. Neu­tral Swe­den boasts of its human­i­tar­i­an ideals, yet Swe­den col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Nazis and turned away Jew­ish refugees. Swe­den has refused to con­demn sui­cide bomb­ings and fails to ade­quate­ly pro­tect its Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty from vicious pro­pa­gan­da and assault.

The last sec­tion of this work presents find­ings from a sur­vey of Euro­pean Jews regard­ing their expe­ri­ences. Many respon­dents have been tar­get­ed for anti-Semit­ic abuse. A sub­stan­tial per­cent­age are fear­ful for their safe­ty and that of their fam­i­lies. Many avoid Jew­ish events and refuse to dis­play items that would iden­ti­fy them as Jews. Some are seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing leav­ing Europe. Valu­able pas­sages describe the role of Israel in the new anti-Semi­tism.” Trib­ute is paid to the Jew­ish Doc­u­men­ta­tion Cen­ter in Vien­na and the Euro­pean Jew­ish Con­gress, which con­tin­ue to attempt to steer Europe toward tol­er­ance, and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, which trans­lat­ed the work­ing def­i­n­i­tion of anti­semitism into all the lan­guages of mem­ber states after the EU neglect­ed to do so. The lat­est data pre­sent­ed are for 2013, and since then the sit­u­a­tion has only become more dire. There is an irony in the sta­tus of Euro­pean Jews today. Mod­ern Jews are gen­er­al­ly mul­ti-dimen­sion­al indi­vid­u­als. Elman calls them the most Euro­pean of Euro­peans,” yet they remain aliens in their homelands.

Lib­by K. White is direc­tor of the Joseph Mey­er­hoff Library of Bal­ti­more Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Bal­ti­more, MD and gen­er­al edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Newsletter.

Discussion Questions