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Outrage Follows Decision to Withhold a Report on Anti-semitism in Europe

November 27, 2003
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A report on rising anti-Semitism among Muslims in Europe has been shelved by the European Union department that commissioned it, and critics are crying foul.

The report found that “the anti-Semitic incidents in the monitoring period were committed above all by right-wing extremists and radical Islamists or young Muslims,” according to details of the report recently published by the Financial Times. The report also pointed to an increase in left-wing anti-Semitism.

The decision to withhold the report, prepared last year for the E.U. Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia by Berlin’s Center for Research on Anti-Semitism, came to the fore when the Monitoring Center disclosed that it was preparing a new report without having released the first one, which was finished in February.

Critics who want the first study made public say the Vienna-based Monitoring Center was not prepared to deal with the sensitive subject of anti-Semitism among Muslims, who make up Europe’s largest minority.

Beate Winkler, director of the Monitoring Center, flatly denies the charge. She said she has not shied away from pointing out Muslim anti-Semitism when evidence of it is clear but that the report in question, which made reference to the difficulty of comparing data across Europe, was too flawed to publish.

“It creates fear and insecurity in the Jewish community if they think there is a report that we don’t respond to, that we put under the carpet the fact that perpetrators in some member states have a Muslim background,” she said.

The Monitoring Center is trying to bring a “strong focus on anti-Semitism for Europe,” she said. The center also has published reports on Islamophobia in Europe.

In the meantime, negotiations are under way with another institute for preparation of the new study, Winkler said.

Officials with the European Jewish Congress are slated to meet next month with Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, to discuss the issue.

The Anti-Defamation League called on the European Union this week to release the report.

The report was based on statistics collected in May and June of 2002 in E.U. member states. It was completed in October and a series of revisions followed, according to sociologist Werner Bergmann, who prepared the report with historian Juliane Wetzel.

The Monitoring Center wanted revisions in references to “young people from Arab or Muslim background” as perpetrators, and regarding the question of when criticism of Israel is legitimate and when it is anti-Semitic, Bergmann told JTA.

The Monitoring Center board “said it might be counterproductive in fighting racism in Europe” to point to the ethnic or national origins of perpetrators, “so we changed it as well as we could, to say that they” — Muslims — “are also victims themselves” in some cases, Bergmann said.

The report also noted that some Muslim groups have protested against anti-Semitism and that those involved in violent acts represent a tiny minority of European Muslims, Bergmann said.

E.U. Parliament member Armin Laschet, of Germany, is among those saying the study should be made public. He and other members of the E.U. Parliament are prepared to fight for its release.

“It must have been withheld for political reasons; it cannot be scientific or quality reasons,” Laschet said. “It is possible to discuss afterward whether it is good or bad, but if you don’t publish it, then this is suspicious.”

The controversy peaked just as media here have been filled with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s warnings regarding Muslim immigration in Europe, which Sharon called a threat to Jews.

Sharon’s remarks echo anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, which generally has focused on the rise of Muslim populations, particularly in France.

There is considerable debate in Europe about Muslims’ role in anti-Semitism. Some say that stereotyping Muslims as dangerous ignores the fact that, as reported in the unpublished study, only a few groups commit violent acts of anti-Semitism.

Still, some say, those groups may represent the thinking — if not the readiness to act — of many others, and ignoring them is foolish.

Many attacks against Jewish sites are “not made by neo-Nazis but by Palestinians,” Laschet said. But some prefer to ignore the fact that Muslims are responsible for anti-Semitic actions, he said.

Anti-Semitic sentiment among Europeans today often is linked to solidarity with the Palestinians, said Ekkehard Stegemann, a Swiss expert on anti-Semitism.

A survey published Nov. 20 by a German magazine showed that latent anti-Semitism in Germany has risen to 23 percent from 20 percent five years ago.

The problem is not limited to Germany, Stegemann said.

In fact, it was a rash of anti-Semitic attacks in early 2002 — particularly in France — that prompted the Monitoring Center to undertake the initial study.

The two people who prepared the report, Bergmann and Wetzel, also provided guidelines for determining when criticism of Israel is legitimate, and when it crosses the line into anti-Semitism.

The Monitoring Center insists the report was weak because it examined a time frame that was “too short,” said John Kellock, head of communications and external relations for the Monitoring Center.

Also, he said, “The data was not comparable, nor was it sufficient to give a sense of trends or make meaningful comparisons between member states.”

“The report contained generalizations about member states and the attitudes of populations in member states that were not backed up by evidence,” Kellock said, without elaborating.

Kellock said it was difficult to achieve consistency given the “different data-collecting mechanisms in each state and different definitions of racism and anti-Semitism.”

“It is a methodological minefield,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, rejected that argument.

Foxman wrote to Prodi that he was “perplexed by claims that definition and data comparability problems were cited as a reason” for scrapping the report, especially since the monitoring center “has already published reports involving hate crime data in other communities.”

Perhaps the most difficult challenge is coming up with a consensus definition of anti-Semitism, Kellock said.

At a Monitoring Center seminar last year, representatives of Jewish groups could not agree on a definition.

The new study is slated for release in spring 2004. It will evaluate anti-Semitic incidents across Europe in 2002 and 2003 and will include interviews with Jewish leaders.

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