On November 3rd, 2014, The Project for Democratic Union invited speakers to discuss rising anti-Semitism in Europe.The debate chaired by Fabian Hamilton MP took place at the House of Commons in London in front of an audience of around 60.
The panel consisting of François Guesnet of UCL, Mehdi Hasan of the Huffington Post and Gillian Walnes MBE of the Anne Frank Trust UK, pictured, discussed the causes of and different approaches to anti-Semitism in Eastern and Central Europe, in Europe’s Muslim communities and in European societies at large.
The panel discussed the examples of Hungary and Poland to highlight different approaches to tackling the long-standing problem of anti-Semitism in Europe. It was argued that in Hungary a reframing of Hungarian-Jewish relations in idealised terms is hindering a critical engagement with anti-Semitism.
In Poland on the other hand a public debate including the reality anti-Semitism has led to a more fruitful engagement with history as seen in the celebrations surrounding the opening of the new Jewish Museum in Warsaw.
The view of the Jewish presence in the two countries was impacted by the respective views of the commonwealth. While Poland had come to a western and liberal view of itself, the issue was less clear in Hungary.
The speakers also discussed the current rise of anti-Semitic discourse and, in some instances, violence the during the last Gaza war. The panel agreed that the current wave of anti-Semitism revived old anti-Semitic clichés and noted a displacement of discourse, disguising anti-Semitic views as criticisms of Israel.
The panel also observed a wave of anti-Semitism on social media during the last Gaza war and suggested that social media companies needed to owe up to their responsibilities in this regard.
Anti-Semitism in European societies at large was also approached through the lens of family history and personal experiences with anti-Semitism in 1950s England, drawing comparisons to the experiences of other minorities.
Differing views were expressed on whether and, if so, how anti-Semitism can be differentiated from other forms of racism. Some saw anti-Semitism as a unique phenomenon due to its longevity and universality, while others emphasised similarities with islamophobic discourse.
The debate concluded that the best way forward was to reduce ignorance through education and to create empathy by encouraging the building of relationships between communities.