Five teenagers from Berlin made international news earlier this week when they brutally attacked and sexually assaulted a 68-year-old Jewish man on his way to visit the Putlitzbrücke Holocaust memorial. This came just a day after a Jewish man was subjected to antisemitic slurs and physically attacked on the Berlin subway. Such alarming antisemitic attacks are on the rise across the globe and especially in Europe, posing a serious threat to Jewish communities everywhere. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) yesterday sought to address this issue in a congressional hearing on Global Efforts to Counter Anti-Semitism.
Anti-semitic attacks like those in Germany are increasing throughout Europe. At yesterday's hearing, Rabbi Abraham Cooper noted the sharp increase in antisemitic attacks in Germany, Sweden, and France in recent years.
Anti-Semitism has a long and troubling history in Europe, and it's a history Europeans seem intent on forgetting. In 2018, a sweeping CNN survey conducted in Europe found a surprising degree of ignorance concerning the Holocaust. Particularly striking is the statistic that one out of five people in France between the ages of 18 and 34 said they'd never even heard of the Holocaust. France is a hotspot for anti-Semitism, and it shows.
Yet, poor education isn't the only problem. The response of European governments to antisemitic violence has been woefully inadequate. Rabbi Cooper argued that the French judiciary "has exposed itself again and again as unwilling and unfit to protect French Jewry." He cited several recent examples of French courts failing to bring those who committed crimes against Jews to justice. In one example, a French court released the murderer of a Jewish kindergarten teacher because he claimed to have smoked marijuana before he strangled her in her apartment while shouting about Allah before throwing her over a balcony.
In her statement, Sharon Nazarian urged European governments to "support the security of local Jewish communities, to address potential threats, and to hold perpetrators of attacks fully accountable."
However, anti-semitism is a complex problem and public policy is only part of the solution. Former Pakistani Ambassador Akbar Ahmed told listeners, "You need to challenge the hearts of the people."
USCIRF Chair and FRC President Tony Perkins recognized the unique importance of confronting anti-Semitism. "This is the issue that affects so many others," he said. "It is a canary in the coalmine when it comes to religious persecution, and we would be negligent as a nation... to ignore what is happening around us."
At its core, religious freedom is the freedom to choose and live out one's faith. For religious freedom to be the norm, Jews must be able to live freely without fear of violence. Antisemitic discrimination and attacks on the Jewish community carried out simply because they are Jewish is fundamentally evil and must not be allowed to go unchecked at home or abroad.
Anti-semitism is an old hatred that has had devastating affects throughout world history. At the hearing, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt testified that anti-semitism "takes many different forms, and it persists." In response, political leaders, advocates, and citizens must be vigilant and speak out against anti-semitism wherever it surfaces. The threat of anti-Semitism is too real to ignore, and the consequences will be severe should we fail act.
Watch the full hearing on CSPAN here: