EU distorts history of how it helped weaponize anti-Semitism

Prominent EU official Katharina von Schnurbein has made misleading comments about her work on anti-Semitism. (European Commission)

Is it possible to disown your work yet still promote it at every available opportunity?

A European Union body is attempting such a balancing act.

The main weapon used by Israel against the Palestine solidarity movement in recent years has been a highly politicized definition of anti-Semitism.

It was originally drawn up as part of an EU-sponsored exercise before eventually being approved by a wider grouping of governments called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Yet the history of the IHRA definition has actually been rewritten in a most dishonest fashion.

A document obtained via a freedom of information request shows that the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency prepared answers in 2018 to what it called “critical questions.”

One of those questions notes that the Fundamental Rights Agency now views the endorsement of the IHRA as positive. So why, the question continued, had the same agency “infamously deleted that definition from its website”?

The prepared reply – see below – reads that the IHRA definition was “adopted in May 2016 and it was never deleted” from the agency’s website.

The Fundamental Rights Agency is using the truth sparingly.

A nearly identical version of the same definition was indeed erased from the agency’s website a few years earlier.

The IHRA definition did not appear out of nowhere in May 2016. The definition was originally contained in a 2005 paper from the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which is today called the Fundamental Rights Agency.

The 2005 paper resulted from discussions between the EU, the American Jewish Committee and some other pro-Israel lobby groups. Rather than focusing on bigotry against Jews based on their religion or ethnicity, it contended that denouncing Israel’s foundation as a “racist endeavor” was an example of anti-Semitism.


Despite trying to distance itself from the IHRA definition, the Fundamental Rights Agency’s own work is guided by that definition.

The agency has connived in efforts to conflate anti-Jewish bigotry with denunciations of Israeli apartheid.

That can be seen from a report it has published on so-called anti-Semitic incidents from 2011 to 2021.

The section for Belgium claims that “ideological anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents on the internet have accounted for the largest proportions of reported incidents in most years.” Citing a Belgian website, the report claims, too, that “ideological anti-Semitism often translates into the expression of sentiments against Israel.”

Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s coordinator against anti-Semitism, is an especially zealous promoter of the IHRA definition.

During November, she was involved in a public dispute about the definition with Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special reporter for the occupied West Bank and Gaza and a staunch defender of the right to criticize Israel.

When Albanese asked on Twitter if the EU had scrutinized the potential impact that the definition could have on human rights, von Schnurbein replied “yes, we assessed.”

Von Schnurbein’s reply was misleading.

I submitted a freedom of information request seeking documents studied by von Schnurbein and fellow EU officials on the IHRA definition. None of the documents which the European Commission – the EU’s executive – identified as relevant to my request contained the kind of assessment about which Albanese inquired.

The organization Law for Palestine made a similar request. In response, the European Commission stated that it “does not hold any documents” concerning such an assessment.

The only conclusion that can be drawn here is that the European Commission wants to see Israel’s critics being muzzled – or at least does not care when such muzzling occurs.

Von Schnurbein and her team have never spoken out when the definition has been invoked to censor or fire journalists and academics for making entirely legitimate comments about Israel and Zionism, its state ideology. On the contrary, her former deputy Johannes Börmann has even cheered on a witch hunt against an anti-Zionist professor.

Enabling Israel’s violence

Assurances by von Schnurbein that the definition is not legally binding are completely worthless.

The European Commission has organized police training workshops in tandem with the World Jewish Congress, a pro-Israel lobby group.

One stated aim of those sessions is to help police “recognize and address anti-Semitism in all its forms.” As the World Jewish Congress argues that labeling Israel an apartheid state could be a form of anti-Semitism under the IHRA definition, questions must be asked about whether it is encouraging a clamp down on the Palestine solidarity movement.

There are even reasons to fear that anti-Israel activism is being treated as tantamount to terrorism.

The EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator is taking part in discussions on anti-Semitism guided by the IHRA definition.

“Terrorism” has been given a top priority in Israel’s dealings with the EU.

By granting it such a high priority, the EU is enabling Israel to use the fight against “terrorism” as a pretext for ramping up its violence against Palestinians.

Gilles de Kerchove, then the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, “delivered speeches in Israel on four occasions between 2008 and 2017,” I was told following an information request.

His successor Ilkka Salmi has visited Tel Aviv once for a so-called counter-terrorism dialogue and addressed the Herzliya conference – a major event in Israel’s political calendar – by video last year.

The EU has refused to release any further details about those discussions on the basis that doing so “would gravely damage” its relations with Israel.

The explanation is actually quite revealing.

Palestinians – including many children – are being killed with frightening regularity at the moment.

They are being killed by Israel. And the EU wants to avoid damaging its relations with that bloodthirsty state.