By Lucy Westcott - 3/24/15

A bipartisan task force to combat rising global anti-Semitism was set up by the House of Representatives on Tuesday in response to a number of attacks targeting Europe’s Jewish community this year.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony from European Jewish leaders on Tuesday about the spike in attacks on Jews in Europe, including the January attacks on a kosher supermarket and the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris; the deadly shooting at a Copenhagen synagogue last month; the 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France; and the 2014 killings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

The Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism, co-chaired by four Republicans and four Democrats, was created to help Congress fight global anti-Semitism around the world and to promote tolerance and remembrance of the Holocaust. The task force will educate congressional members on the “distinct form of intolerance” that is anti-Semitism and will work with foreign leaders, civil society groups and the executive branch to share ways to reduce acts of hate and anti-Semitism worldwide.

“We look forward to working with our colleagues in Congress to find innovative solutions that match the 21st century face of this age-old bigotry,” U.S. Representatives Chris Smith, Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kay Granger, Steve Israel, Peter Roskam and Ted Deutch said in a joint statement.

Testifying in front of Congress on Tuesday, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, noted a “strange confluence of hatred” across Europe that includes radical Muslims, far-right and neo-Nazi political groups like Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece, and an elite, educated class of people “with a pathological hatred of Israel,” all of which, along with years of economic downturn, has caused a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.

“For the first few decades following World War II, we mistakenly believed that anti-Semitism—the age-old hatred of Jews—had finally disappeared from Europe and everywhere else,” said Lauder. “I now tell you with the greatest sadness that, 70 years later, the age-old virus of anti-Semitism has returned in all its evil and ugliness. Anti-Semitism has returned to streets of Paris and Toulouse, to the streets of Brussels and Copenhagen. It has even returned to Berlin.”

France, which with 500,000 Jews has the world’s third largest Jewish population, behind Israel and the U.S., has seen a particularly sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks over the past year and has increased security at Jewish schools following the Charlie Hebdo attack. A February report for Le Parisien newspaper and the French TV program CQFD found 68 percent of French people believe anti-Semitism is on the rise. Seventy-seven percent believed Islamophobia is increasing.

Jews in France experienced twice as many anti-Semitic attacks in 2014 compared with 2013, according to a report released in January by the country’s Jewish Community Security Service.

Jews in Denmark also faced threats and attacks last year. According to Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, president of the Danish Jewish Community, who testified before Congress on Tuesday, fewer Danish Jews are wearing yarmulkes, and “they wouldn’t dare” for fear of being physically attacked in certain areas of Copenhagen, he said.

On February 15, Dan Uzan, a volunteer security guard, was shot dead outside the main Copenhagen synagogue, hours after a shooting at a debate on freedom of speech and Islam at a cultural center in the city.

“The terror attack against the Jewish community in Denmark did not occur in a vacuum. It did not happen in Copenhagen just by chance. It was the culmination of years of growing anti-Semitism,” said Asmussen. “It happened in a country where it has become widely acceptable to criticize and question both Israel and Jews with a carelessness that we did not expect or imagine just a few years ago."

Representative Curt Clawson, R-Florida, who noted his own Danish ancestry, asked what the world could do next, especially if the solution to global anti-Semitism cannot be found within the Muslim community.

“What we see in Denmark is the same all over. The Muslim community tends to be very fractured,” said Asmussen. He cited the “ring of peace” that saw Muslims form a human shield around a Copenhagen synagogue earlier this month, which mirrored a similar initiative around an Oslo synagogue in February. But not many Muslims take part in such displays of solidarity, said Asmussen.

Lauder, Asmussen and Roger Cukierman, president of the Council of Jewish Institutions of France, who also testified, all agreed that not every country takes the anti-Semitism threat seriously, and that the U.S. needs to do more to step up the pressure and fight it.

Both Lauder and Cukierman said the Internet can be a tool and a platform to disseminate hatred and ill-feeling toward Jews. “On the Internet, ways were found to ban child pornography. Likewise, anti-Semitism must be banned,” said Cukierman. “The providers of Internet must understand that they bear a responsibility when murders are committed by youngsters who became jihadists through the Internet.”