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Countering Antisemitism in the EU and US: Strategies, Cooperation and Policy Transference

Countering the rise in antisemitism in the EU and US and the threat that it poses to democracy and public safety requires a robust, coordinated policy response.

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Key Insights

  • Antisemitism has increased on both sides of the Atlantic, putting the democratic order in peril and feeding violent extremism. 
  • The EU led the way in the creation of a Europewide strategy to combat antisemitism in 2021, which included the creation of similar national level strategies across Europe. EU and European antisemitism coordinators/envoys met with US officials, which informed the US adoption of a national strategy to counter antisemitism that was released in May 2023, demonstrating policy transference from the EU to the US.
  • European and US policymakers utilized the expertise of transnational advocacy networks (TANs) operating both in Europe and the US simultaneously to inform policy creation and to assist with implementing and assessing policies to address antisemitism.   
  • EU and US strategies to combat antisemitism address security concerns, radicalization, antidiscrimination, and the spread of hate speech and hate crimes both online and in-person
  • US and EU and other European officials are working together to address antisemitism and foster Jewish life both at home and in other parts of the world. 


Antisemitism threatens democracy and public safety and has been on the rise in the US and Europe in the 21st century. Economic crises, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly following the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel and the Israel-Hamas War, the COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories, and decreased knowledge of the Holocaust have fed antisemitic narratives, and social media have exacerbated the spread of antisemitic content. The rise of antisemitism has made it harder for Jews to live in Europe and the US, and it is a threat to both civil liberties, civil rights, and public safety. Antidemocratic forces, including illiberalism and extremism utilize antisemitism, making it a concern for both sides of the Atlantic. It is therefore imperative for the US and EU to work together to address it. The EU response to the rise of antisemitism culminated in the creation of the EU strategy to combat antisemitism and foster Jewish life, which was unveiled in October 2021; in May 2023, the US released its own policy, which shares many similar attributes with the EU’s document. The work of transnational advocacy networks (TANs) and policy transference from the EU to the US explains how both sides of the Atlantic have created similar strategies. Moreover, US and EU officials in their capacities as antisemitism envoys/coordinators have worked together to address antisemitism around the globe. 

Why Is Addressing Antisemitism Important?

Democracy is premised on ideals related to the protection of civil liberties and civil rights. Civil liberties protect citizens from state tyranny, guaranteeing certain rights; whereas civil rights refer to protection from unequal treatment or discrimination for certain characteristics such as religion, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Antisemitism is a form of discrimination, which is a civil rights issue; but antisemitism is also used as a tool of the far right and far left populists and extremist organizations to undermine democracy, thus making it a civil liberties issue as well.

One expression of antisemitism takes the form of conspiracy theories, which falsely claim that Jews control government, banks, and the economy. If citizens believe such claims, then government institutions are seen as illegitimate. Delegitimizing government institutions by claiming that they are in the hands of a small group deters citizen participation and erodes public trust. Public trust and legitimacy are foundations of democracy. Those susceptible to such ideologies or disinformation no longer engage in peaceful political participation, and may target Jews and Jewish sites (as well as non-Jewish targets associated with Jews). This creates a public security risk and an exclusionary and discriminatory environment that is contrary to democratic ideals and fuels violent extremism/terrorism.  

Since the start of the 21st century European Jews have felt increasingly threatened and have left Europe or are contemplating leaving Europe. In 1991, there were approximately two million Jews in Europe; in 2020, there were only 1.5 million, an approximately 25% decrease. The decline is mostly attributed to an exodus from Europe.  Several violent attacks against Jews in Europe occurred, and many Jews felt unsafe remaining in Europe.  In 2015, fears would  escalate with the January attack at a Kosher supermarket in Paris, in which four Jews were killed, following the violent attack at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which killed twelve. Less than a month later, in Copenhagen, a perpetrator murdered one person at an art/free speech event and a young Jew working security outside a synagogue during a bat mitzvah. These double events brought urgency to the plight of the Jewish community in Europe. The violence demonstrated a threat to core values of security and religious freedom. These tragedies helped push the issue of antisemitism to the fore of the European Commission’s agenda.

Similarly, in 2018, the US experienced the deadliest attack on its Jewish community as a gunman entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh killing eleven. It is clear that antisemitism inspired the perpetrator to commit the heinous attack. During the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol, film footage also showed rioters brandishing Holocaust tee-shirts and Nazi paraphernalia. These are not isolated incidents. A 2022 Anti-Defamation League report shows that 3,697 antisemitic incidents occurred in the US, an increase of 36% from 2021, and the highest number of incidents since tracking began in 1979. As a study commissioned by the US government points out: “Antisemitism in Europe and other parts of the world poses a threat to American interests because it threatens democracy, pluralism, and stability in U.S.-allied countries — and, to a lesser extent, that it contributes to violent extremism, anti-Americanism, and violence against the State of Israel, another American strategic partner.” Hamas’ murder and capture of Americans in Israel on October 7, 2023, underscore the study’s findings. 

Policy Prescription

In response to the attacks in Europe in 2015, Frans Timmermans, then Vice-President of the  Commission with the portfolio responsibility for Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, organized the Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights around the issue of both antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate. He announced, during the Commission’s annual colloquium, the creation of a coordinator’s office for combating antisemitism and another to address anti-Muslim hate. Katharina von Schnurbein, who had formerly advised the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, on the Commission's dialogue with churches, religions, philosophical, and non-confessional organizations, was appointed as the coordinator for combatting antisemitism in December 2015. Other EU institutions also displayed similar urgency to address antisemitism. The European Parliament, in 2017, adopted a resolution on combating antisemitism; in 2018, the Council of the EU issued a declaration on the fight against antisemitism; and in 2020, the Council issued a separate declaration on mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism across policy areas. These steps culminated in the European Commission’s first ever comprehensive strategy, published in 2021, to combat antisemitism and foster Jewish life. 

Jewish organizations were brought into the discussion to assist in formulating the EU’s strategy to combat antisemitism and foster Jewish life. The dialogue between these groups and the coordinators office became an official Working Group that meets regularly to shape the coordinator’s office policy formulation. Legally registered organizations such as the World Jewish Congress, European Jewish Congress, and B’nai B’rith International all have affiliates and are linked to advocacy networks in the US, such as the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League. These TANs work internationally and bring together individuals working across national borders who are “bound together by shared values, a common discourse and dense exchanges of information.” Thus, the ideas that TANs contributed to the creation of the EU strategy were also used to inform the creation of the US Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. For instance the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) research on antisemitism in Europe helped to raise awareness among European leaders of the increase in antisemitism and the AJC met with US officials shaping the US strategy. Moreover,European leaders played a role in informing the US Strategy as the EU coordinator to combat antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, German coordinator Felix Klein, Dutch coordinator Eddo Verdoner, and Advisor to the Government on Antisemitism of the UK, Lord John Mann, among others, met with U.S. Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism to share insights from the EU and its member states’ national strategies, which informed the US’s national strategy.

As part of the EU strategy, the Commission called for member states to create national strategies by the end of 2022 and for those strategies to be evaluated by the end of 2023. Thus far, fourteen member states have adopted strategies, and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency will assist in the formulation and implementation of these strategies. Moreover, member states have also been encouraged to create special envoys or coordinators to address antisemitism and to adopt the International Holocaust Alliance for Remembrance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as a working, non-legally binding definition. The IHRA definition provides several examples of how antisemitism manifests itself, which is useful for policy formulation to address specifically the diverse ways in which antisemitism is expressed and perpetrated in the EU and the US. The IHRA defines antisemitism as: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The definition also provides examples of antisemitism in “public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere” that demonstrates the various manifestations of antisemitism. The EU and US strategies employ the IHRA definition of antisemitism and  engage in improving security, increasing education and outreach, and improving data collection to shape the policy better. 

Comparing the EU and US Strategies to Address Antisemitism

  • preventing and combating all forms of antisemitism 

  • protecting and fostering Jewish life in the EU

  • education, research and Holocaust remembrance

  • Increase awareness and understanding of antisemitism, including its threat to America, and broaden the appreciation of Jewish American heritage
  • Improve safety and security for Jewish communities
  • Reverse the normalization of antisemitism and counter Antisemitic discrimination
  • Build cross-community solidarity and collective action to counter hate

The US and EU have also worked together in the international arena to address fostering Jewish life and addressing antisemitism beyond their borders. For instance, in 2022 the Kyrgyzstani government attempted to expropriate the country’s only Jewish school, Pri Etz Haim-Ort, located in Bishkek, by taking the building over after it had been recently renovated. The EU coordinator’s office to combat antisemitism alerted the EU ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. The EU ambassador, along with the US Charge d’Affaires, raised the issue with the Kyrgyzstani government. Kyrgyzstan subsequently abandoned its plan to expropriate the school. Similarly, when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made comments related to the Holocaust, claiming that the Nazis killed Jews not because of antisemitism, but because of Jews’ “social role” in society, such as money lending, the EU and US both denounced his statements. A further example of US and European cooperation is a recent German raid and banning of a neo-Nazi group with roots in the US. American officials cooperated with German officials for over a year resulting in the raid of several sites of the “Hammerskins Deutschland,” an offshoot of “Hammerskins Nation” in the US. US-German cooperation proved invaluable to stop this antisemitic organization. Seven hundred officers raided the homes of twenty-eight members, resulting in the confiscation of far-right “devotional objects” and money that the group raised in order to recruit new members into subscribing to their racial doctrine based on Nazi ideology

Challenges to Combatting Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life

There still remain significant differences across the Atlantic and barriers to achieving the goal of countering antisemitism. For instance, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), prior to the creation of the EU strategy, upheld a kosher and halal slaughter ban in Flanders, Belgium, allowing other EU member states to maintain such bans. The Court’s decision put animal welfare above religious freedom. While the decision was issued prior to the creation of the EU strategy, it nevertheless runs counter to fostering Jewish life. In fact, the advocate general’s opinion in the case sided with the priority of protecting religious freedom, yet the justices ignored that opinion. The advocate general’s rationale is similar to why the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, the Netherlands and several other democracies have exceptions for kosher and halal slaughter on the grounds of protecting religious freedom. Yet, the CJEU decision ran counter to these examples, and, one could argue, against the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

The EU and US also have very different regulatory frameworks to address hate speech content online and have very different laws related to free speech. For instance, in the EU, Holocaust denial, distortion or trivialization is illegal, but it is not in the US. Holocaust denial, distortion or trivialization is a form of antisemitism, or what scholars term secondary antisemitism. The spread of antisemitism is particularly problematic and pernicious on social media. The EU’s Digital Services Act has made regulating online hate speech a priority, requiring social media platforms with at least 45 million users (such as Facebook, ‘X’ [formerly Twitter], YouTube, and TikTok,  among others) to share their algorithms and to take down illegal content in a timely manner; yet, the rules to enforce this apply only to larger platforms. In October 2023, the EU requested that some of these companies provide information on policies related to spreading illicit content as it relates to the Israel-Hamas War. The EU opened an inquiry with ‘X’ for possibly violating the Digital Services Act for not stopping “the spread of illegal content, disinformation and other harmful material,” which has potentially fueled antisemitism in Europe following the start of the war. Similar probes have been launched against Meta and TikTok. Fines for such a violation are as high as 6% of  global revenues. Conversely, the US has followed a more market-based approach, leaving regulating social media to industry. Both the EU and US strategies put a high priority on stopping the spread of antisemitism online, but the tools and approaches of the EU and US related to digital content are very different and leave opportunities for antisemitism to continue to flourish across social media platforms. 

Future Research

Future research should determine if the strategies were implemented properly and were effective in reducing antisemitism and its ill effects. If policies are not effective, new policy tools will need to be developed. Specifically, the increase in antisemitism related to the Israel-Hamas War is pernicious and threatens Jewish communities in the EU and US. Policymakers need to recognize and address this particular form of antisemitism. There also needs to be better standardized data collection to measure antisemitism across Europe and the US. It is important to assess and understand the impact of divergent regulatory approaches on deterring and stopping the spread of antisemitism through digital content. Moreover, the US and European countries have very different antidiscrimination laws. Understanding the impact and history of that divergence may shed light on how different legal systems can address antisemitism. Addressing antisemitism has a profound impact on preserving democracy on both sides of the Atlantic, given that it is closely tied to domestic extremism and terrorism, which challenge democratic institutions both in the US and Europe. 

Policy Recommendations

  1. Policy makers need to understand how and why increased tensions between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank result in threats and violence against Jews in Europe and the US. Policy instruments must be employed to counter these trends, and Jewish communities should be protected in the US and EU, while allowing freedom of speech, but not hate speech. 
  2. The online arena remains a challenge with very different regulatory frameworks and very different rules on free speech. There should be a concerted effort on both sides of the Atlantic to address monitoring and regulating online hate speech. 
  3. The US and EU should explore other avenues of cooperation in the field of addressing antisemitism at home and abroad. 
  4. Importance of oversight to ensure these policies meet their intended goals. 
  5. Bringing in and working with non-Jewish organization to share best practices and learn from the policy for other areas of discrimination such as anti-Muslim hate, and anti-Asian hate.

About the Author

Carolyn Dudek is Chair of the Department of Political Science and Director of  European Studies at Hofstra University. She specializes in comparative politics with regional focuses on Europe and Latin America. Professor Dudek has authored several books, chapters and articles on a range of issues related to transatlantic relations.