Although figures in a recent report published by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in 2014 show that there was a decrease in anti-Semitic incidents in certain EU Member States in 2012 and 2013, (614 (2012) and 423 (2013) in France; 87 (2012) and 49 (2013) in Italy; and 649 (2012) and 529 (2013) in the UK), over 75% of the respondents with Jewish background from 8 EU Member States believe that anti-Semitism has worsened in their country.
Anti-Semitic hate speech may be understood by some as a justification to engage in violence. This comes in a context of recent acts of violence, such as the shootings in a Jewish school in Toulouse in May 2012 where 7 people died (including 3 children) and the murder of 4 people in front of the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014. In July 2014, molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, and in Liege, Belgium, a café owner put up a sign stating that dogs were welcome, but Jews were not allowed.
During the campaign leading up to the European elections in May 2014, candidates often used hate speech and anti-Semitic rhetoric to attract more votes. There were 42 reported hate speech incidents and 5 authors of these incidents are now Members of the European Parliament (MEP). This is a worrisome development on both national and European levels. The use of such discourse is fundamentally contrary to the values the European Union was founded upon.
While anti-Semitic discourse seems to be increasingly tolerated nationally, members from parties propagating racist and/or xenophobic ideas and policies now account for over 10% of all MEPs for the new parliamentary term 2014-2019. Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group collapsed after Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule quit, since it no longer included members from at least 7 EU Member States (the minimum to establish a political group in the European Parliament). However, it is now being re-formed as Robert Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, a racist Polish MEP, joins. His party in Poland, Congress of the New Right (KNP), is led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who notoriously stated once that Hitler ‘probably… was not aware that Jews were being exterminated’ and who was fined 3040 EUR in September for making a racist statement in the European Parliament.
We must prevent the further spread of such ideologies. As the European Parliament (EP) is the only EU institution whose members are directly elected by EU citizens, MEPs bear responsibility to express and promote their ideals in ways that are not discriminatory to other MEPs and constituents.
To combat offensive discourse in Europe, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has advocated for adequate responses to hate speech in the European Parliament, based on solid monitoring. At the moment, there are no such political mechanisms in place and sanctioning MEPs who resort to hate speech is largely subject to the discretion of the President of the European Parliament. Institutionalizing such a mechanism would set an important precedent in how freedom of expression can prevail without infringing a person’s right to dignity. European political parties and groups in the European Parliament must also establish clear processes to react to ensure discipline among their own elected representatives. By doing this, the EP would be the first EU institution to adopt such a mechanism and would thus continue to play a key role as a defender of fundamental rights in the EU.
Visit the EANR webzine for details of the actions for the 9th November.