The fight against rising antisemitism is a priority for the Organisation along with combatting anti-Muslim racism and other forms of religious intolerance. The Secretary General’s Special Representative first appointed at the end of 2020, ensures the coordinated and collective expertise of the Council of Europe is put to full use against these specific threats.
The Special Representative represents the Council of Europe in the meetings of the international Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA) and enables regular co-operation with the respective representatives of the OSCE, UN and EU. Underlining the importance of complementarity and co-operation with the EU, the Special Representative also met Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson in October 2021 for a comprehensive exchange on areas of common concern.
Raising awareness of the Organisation’s expertise and through statements and publications is a key part of the mandate. In response to outbreaks of antisemitic violence in parts of Europe in May 2021, the Special Representative published an op-ed in nine member states entitled urging European governments to counter hate speech online and to better promote education about the Holocaust.
Against the background of the Organisation’s long-standing role in fostering Holocaust remembrance, it is also important that the Council of Europe is now more frequently represented at important commemorative events and international fora.
Ministers’ Deputies provide valuable input to the work of the Special Representative through regular exchanges. Two informal meetings were held during the German and Hungarian presidencies to discuss dangerous trends and counter strategies. Attacks on Christians, though rare in the Council of Europe area, were also highlighted as an area of concern.
Co-operation with national bodies such as France’s DILCRAH, Germany’s Antisemitism Commissioner and the UK’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief is an important means to share best practice. On 8 November 2021, a conference in Paris was organised jointly with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the subject of “Government, parliamentary, civil society and business responses to antisemitism” with the participation of high-level French officials and parliamentarians.
To estimate the dimension, nature and threats of anti-Muslim online hate speech, the Special Representative undertook a consultation of Muslim organisations in eight member states. The results of the survey - reported in international media - indicate that attacks online have become as threatening - or more - to Muslim communities as attacks offline. This phenomenon deserves further analysis and policy attention.
The interreligious dimension of intercultural dialogue - in particular between youth - can make an important contribution to strengthening common European values, human dignity and mutual respect. This is the conclusion of a seminar with young citizens of Strasbourg from different cultural and religious backgrounds entitled “Young people facing hate speech today: impact and solutions”. Building on the positive outcome, a similar exchange is envisaged in 2022 with young representatives from different countries.
The Special Representative’s extensive network of expert and faith-based organisations will be further expanded to identify areas of cooperation and to increase the role of the Council of Europe in common European efforts to combat contemporary forms of antisemitism, anti-Muslim racism and other forms of religious hatred.