State of the Union: Xi in Europe and alarming new data on antisemitism

State of the Union: Xi in Europe and alarming new data on antisemitism

For the first time in five years, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Europe.

A visit short on substance, but rich in symbolism. It started in France, and then continued to Hungary and Serbia – two countries that are close with Russia in a subtle reminder of where the Chinese actually stand.

In Paris, Xi’s talks with Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen were dominated by a looming trade conflict on electric vehicles and Ukraine.

The latter is a particular concern for Europe, as Beijing has sharply increased its sales of dual-use parts used in missiles and drones to Russia recently. European efforts to convince China not to support Moscow sounded rather academic.

“We count on China to use all its influence on Russia to end Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine," EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after the talks. "President Xi has played an important role in de-escalating Russia’s irresponsible nuclear threats, and I’m confident that President Xi will continue to do so.”

Xi’s visit to Europe came at a time of geopolitical uncertainty against the backdrop of rising political violence in Europe: a German Member of the European Parliament got beaten up by four strangers a week ago, while violence against Jews and Muslims is also on the uptick.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed this out this week, but said that violence against Muslims was receiving less attention.

“There is a distinction in Europe in terms of combating hate crimes. Unfortunately, the sensitivity shown against antisemitism is spared from attacks like those stemming from Islamophobia and racism.”

Hatred of Jews and Muslims has seemingly reached new levels and is being amplified by social media.

A new study by the University of Tel Aviv, for example, finds that a global trend of antisemitic incidents has skyrocketed at a rate unseen since World War II and that it started way before the Hamas attack against Israel and the war in Gaza.

This makes it very hard for grassroots organisations that work for tolerance and understanding in Europe.

We spoke to Ilan Cohn, Director of HIAS Europe, the European branch of one of the oldest refugee organisations in the world.

Euronews: So, let me first ask you about the spike of antisemitism in the world – how does that affect your work?

Cohn: Well, as our roots are very much within the Jewish community, we started off helping Jews before we became a generic humanitarian organisation and helping all refugees, no matter where they are. But now also, we have to be mindful of, our operations in Europe or in the US when it comes to receiving people in our offices, like almost every other Jewish community organisation in Europe.

Euronews: So, HIAS has been promoting an interfaith dialogue through the EU-funded Neighbours Project in several European cities, an attempt to bring Jews and Muslims together. Is this easier on a community level than in a national or international debate?

Cohn: Sure. At the community level, I think, it is somewhat more easy. And for one reason, because it's less high profile. And what we've seen indeed is that by initiating those coalitions in eight cities around Europe, within the context of this neighbours project, we really created an infrastructure, of trust, of relationships, of friendships between Jewish communities and their migrant neighbours. And thereby when there's a crisis, at least there's an infrastructure to deal with those tensions.

Euronews: What feedback are you getting?

Cohn: Following the October 7th attack, I think there was a lot of concern within the consortium of the project that we wouldn't be able to continue the investments in coalition building, the investments in visiting each other, synagogues and opening up. And we were afraid that that would all come to an end. Au contraire. What we saw is that exactly the friendships and the relationships that were created through the project during the first two years of the project really helped to sustain the process.

Euronews: HIAS was originally founded in 1881 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that provided humanitarian assistance to Jewish refugees to the United States. Today, in Europe, your focus is to help Ukrainian refugees in Eastern Europe. Tell us about your current experience, what are you seeing?

Cohn: So we have around Europe, we have 17 Jewish communities that support over 1,100 Ukrainian refugees. And to sustain that interest, to sustain that mobilisation after two years becomes a real challenge.

To close, let's go back to Xi Jinping’s trip, specifically to Hungary. In Budapest, he missed an opportunity to pay a visit to a unique Budapest bar, the For Sale Pub.

Maybe it’s because the watering hole has always been a symbol for freedom. It’s named after an old For Sale sign that the owner found when he bought it.

What makes the pub unique is its thousands of handwritten notes covering the walls and the ceiling.

Often written in the visitor’s native language, the notes offer greetings, thoughts and political messages to communicate with future guests.

The pub is always full – not bad for a place that doesn’t advertise and has no social media accounts.

But that’s the power of free expression.