The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial

The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial

The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial

The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial


Copublished with the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, this study asks if the European Union (EU) has the capacity or the will to counter antisemitism. The desire to counter antisemitism was a significant impetus toward the formation of the EU in the twentieth century and now prejudice against Jews threatens to subvert that goal in the twenty-first. The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial offers an overview of the circumstances that obliged European political institutions to take action against antisemitism and considers the effectiveness of these interventions by considering two seemingly dissimilar EU states, Austria and Sweden.

This examination of the European Union's strategy for countering antisemitism discloses escalating prejudice within the EU in the aftermath of 9/11. R. Amy Elman contends that Europe's political actors have responded to the challenge and provocation of antisemitism with only sporadic rhetoric and inconsistent commitment; this halfhearted strategy for countering anti-Semitism exacerbates skepticism toward EU institutions and their commitment to equality and justice. This exposition of the insipid character of the EU's response simultaneously suggests alternatives that might mitigate the subtle and potentially devastating creep of antisemitism in Europe.

The author offers a new approach insofar as scholarly considerations of the EU's attempts to combat racism rarely focus on antisemitism, while scholarship on antisemitism rarely considers the political context of the European Union.


In the aftermath of the Second World War, Europe’s politicians constructed a “common market” on the supposition that a cohesive economic union would diminish the rabid nationalism that, in part, led to genocide. Indeed, the Preamble of the European Community’s founding treaty requires Member States “to substitute … age-old rivalries [through] the merging of their essential interests and create, by establishing an economic community, the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts.”

Decades later, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the European Union (EU), the President of the European Commission explained, “The genius of the founding fathers was precisely in understanding that to guarantee peace in the 20th century, nations needed to think beyond the nation-state.”

As nationalism’s primary losers, Europe’s Jews were perhaps the major beneficiaries of this transnational emphasis insofar as any tamping down of nationalism would extinguish the potential for future antisemitic coalescence. Though, as I argue here, this hope might prove “unwarrantedly optimistic.” Indeed, some maintain that the repressed and sullied patriotic pride resulting from Europe’s post-nationalism may ignite the very conflicts the creation of the EU attempted to avert. This position implies therefore that Europe’s integration is unlikely to reduce, much less resolve, antisemitism. So, which is it—or as my Nana would ask, is Europe’s integration “good for Jews”? While the question defies a clear-cut verdict, it invites an analysis of the utopian ambitions of Europe’s political architects from the perspective both of those responsible for implementing Europe’s lofty goals, as well as of others (i.e., Jews) whose presence in Europe has long been and continues to be precarious.


The European Union now operates as the world’s largest single market as well as its largest trader of goods and services. As such, however, the integrated market has not translated into a unified social voice against antisemitism. Taunting references to Auschwitz and other examples of the verbal arsenal of antisemitism recur in social discourse. For example, at . . .

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