BRUSSELS (AP) — Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Thursday that antisemitism is on the rise in the Western world and urged the European Union to ensure that Jews can live safely on the continent where the Holocaust took place.
Speaking at the European Parliament on the eve of the annual commemorations of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, Herzog said EU countries as well as the 27-nation bloc's officials should use legislation, education and security to eradicate antisemitism.
“You must read the warning signs, detect the symptoms of the pandemic of antisemitism, and fight it at all costs," he said. “Unfortunately, the picture is disturbing. Deeply disturbing. Antisemitic discourse festers not only within dark regimes, but within the heartlands of the free, democratic West."
Antisemitism gained traction during lockdowns as the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated hatred online. Herzog said antisemitism is spreading “at record pace, at the click of a button."
“The distance between a viral video and a physical attack hardly exists at all," he added. “The distance between a Facebook post and the smashing of headstones in a cemetery is shorter than we would think."
In Germany, a group tracking antisemitism said it documented more than 2,700 incidents in the country in 2021, including 63 attacks and six cases of extreme violence, while Europe’s Fundamental Rights Agency said nine out of 10 Jews think antisemitism has increased in their country. Incidents of bias and hate speech have also been rising in the U.S.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on the anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious of the death camps where Nazi Germany carried out its Final Solution seeking to murder the Jewish people of Europe.
Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, most of them Jews, but also Poles, Roma and others. The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2005 establishing International Holocaust Remembrance Day as an annual commemoration.
About 6 million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Some 1.5 million were children.
As Israel celebrates its 75th anniversary later this year, Herzog said his country is open to criticism but argued that casting doubt about the State of Israel's right to exist equates to antisemitism.
“It is antisemitism in the full sense of the word, and it must be thoroughly uprooted," he said. “The rule is simple: Criticism of us must pass the basic test of fairness and integrity, and it must not cross the line into dehumanization or delegitimization."
Herzog also lashed out at Iran as Tehran continues its brutal crackdown over widespread protests led by young Iranians. He called for the international community to fight against “the forces of darkness and hatred that threaten to destroy us."
“I speak first and foremost of the Iranian regime, which not only publicly calls for the complete annihilation of my country but is also murdering its own countrymen and women, who are demanding liberty and human and civil rights, stoking civil wars throughout the Middle East, playing an active and lethal role in the war in Ukraine, and developing weapons of mass destruction on the way to dramatically threatening the stability of the entire globe," he said.
The European Union earlier this week imposed sanctions on dozens of Iranian officials and organizations suspected in the security crackdown on protestors. The 27-nation bloc has also imposed punitive measures on Iranian individuals linked to supplying Russia with explosive drones to use in its war against Ukraine.