S ince early 2015, Katharina von Schnurbein, has held the post of the European Commission’s Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism. A German national, Von Schnurbein works with EU Member States, the European Parliament, all religions and faith groups, civil society organizations, and academia to strengthen policy responses to antisemitism and address hate speech on the Internet. Jacob Kornbluh caught up with her on the sidelines of last week’s World Jewish Congress in New York.

Does Marine Le Pen’s second-place finish in the first round of the French presidential election strengthen Europe’s far right, and does this make your job that much harder?

Clearly, the whole rise of populism has created an increase of hatred. Hateful acts have been recorded across Europe with regard to anti-Semitism, but also with regard to other hate crimes. This is cause for great worry. It stems from a rhetoric that basically rejects the other. This is one of the biggest challenges for our societies today, whether it is against Jews or against Muslims. One must understand that fighting this brand of populism is a responsibility for all of those who stand solidly on democratic values if we want to protect our societies to hold together. This hatred will not stay in one corner. Sooner or later, it always spills over. This is also why fighting anti-Semitism is not only a responsibility for the Jews. It’s a responsibility for society at large.

And we don’t see this only in Europe. We should be worried whenever we see an attempt to divide our societies because once divided, it’s very difficult to bring people back together. In the end, everyone wants to live in a society where you get along with your neighbor. If you create this division deliberately, it opens a waterfall.

Aside from France, where a populist party is competing for the presidency in a second round of voting, the EU is also bracing for Britain’s exit. Is the populist trend reversible, or irreversible?

What they have in common is that they are against the European project because it has created peace. The EU created a set of values on which we all agree, and which we need to defend now. By the way, there is a new popular grassroots movement called the Pulse of Europe. It started with a few people in Frankfurt who said, ‘we’re not going to abandon the streets only to those who want to this destroy this project. We need to counter them.’ They started demonstrations in support of Europe, and now, every Sunday, in 100 cities across Europe, you have these counterdemonstrations that are growing stronger by the day.

Despite the addition of your position, the EU lacks a formal definition of anti-Semitism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has drafted a working definition that Jewish groups have asked the EU to adopt. Will the EU indeed adopt the IHRA definition?

This definition was adopted by the IHRA last May, but it failed to be adopted in the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). The European Commission then said that we are going to refer to this IHRA definition as a useful tool. We don’t have any formal means to adopt non-legally binding working definitions, so there is no formal process for this. The European Commissioner for Justice, Vera Jourova, endorsed this definition as a useful tool for NGOs, for data recording, and for training of police, judges and prosecutors.

You recently sat through a full internal meeting of the Conference of European Rabbis Standing Committee. What concerns were expressed at that meeting and what action has been taken on them since then?

Actually, I see a lot of representatives from many organizations, and I’ve been traveling a lot to meet the Jewish communities across Europe. In most countries, you see a significant level of fear. Jews question whether they have a future in Europe. The fact that Jews are faced with this question 72 years after the end of the Shoah is just tragic. The ultimate goal must be to say we want to make sure that Jews in Europe can live the lives the way they want to live, whether they are observant or not, and whether they send their kids to Jewish schools or to public schools. Then, of course, the second issue is security because although no one wants to live behind barbed wire, unfortunately, it’s necessary at the moment to protect Jewish buildings and Jewish infrastructure. We have seen a decline in anti-Semitic incidents in place when security has been increased. And we do raise the issue with local governments that it’s not up to the Jewish community to bear their own security costs. It’s the responsibility of every country to ensure the security of its citizens.

The consensus among Jewish organizations in Europe is that your position has done a credible job monitoring social media, but is falling far short of the mark when it comes to education reforms to combat anti-Semitism. How do you answer that?

Education remains the most important long-term preventive measure to prevent anti-Semitism. The responsibility for educational reforms is with the EU member states, however, the European Commission supports this process by funding instructional materials and a “teach the teachers” program so they can address their own biases and address anti-Semitism when they see it. It’s not just for history teachers, even a physical education instructor must be able to recognize this and react appropriately. As to addressing illegal online hatred, we have created a code of conduct with social media and information technology companies — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft — that within 24 hours of the posting of illegal hate speech, they have to revise, and if necessary remove it.

As to the last point, education is more long term. We are really at a crossroad now in how we can make sure that the young generation will understand what the Holocaust meant for Europe, and the role of the creation of the European Union as a project of peace so we can say Never Again. To really create that bridge going forward so that we aren’t just looking back. What we need is to make sure that Jews are safe in Europe and that we fight anti-Semitism not only when it comes to the right-wing, but also Muslim extremism, and all the biases that people might have against Israel. When this goes against the self-determination and the right of Israel to exist, it’s clearly anti-Semitic. Of course, criticizing Israel and their government’s policies is a different story. That’s not anti-Semitic. But people need to understand these nuances to know how to fight anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism has become a larger problem in the US this year, and the freedom of speech under the First Amendment limits what governments can do, as opposed to Europe, where Holocaust denial, for example, is illegal in many countries. Can the US learn anything from Europe in this regard?

“I don’t know whether they can learn, but certainly, in Europe we have limitations to freedom of speech when it comes to incitement to hatred or violence. In 2008, we passed legislation, which prohibits and criminalizes this kind of hate speech. On that basis, we have approached internet companies and ordered them to abide by European legislation. So far, we have seen a slight improvement when it comes to flags [warnings of content that violate community guidelines] that come from organizations that are trusted flaggers. There has been no improvement whatsoever when it comes to takedowns from individual flaggers. We are working with them closely to ensure that this is improved. We work with NGOs who can do the monitoring. We work with Israel as well on this. It’s very important to really ensure that this legislation applies across the board.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 658. Jacob Kornbluh is also the political reporter for JewishInsider.com.