BRUSSELS (EJP)---“Jews in Europe have always experienced anti-Semitism,” heard participants at a conference in Brussels on ‘European Integration and its impact on anti-Semitism’, only days after anti-Semitic attacks on rabbis occurred in Berlin and Vienna.
European Jewish Union CEO Tomer Orni, the organizer of the conference together with the European Jewish Parliament and Tzedek, the Association of European Jewish Lawyers, opened the discussion on Tuesday by insisting “anti-Semitism is part of Europe’s DNA”. “It is rooted in Europe and there were always different sources of motivations for anti-Semitism.”
“Today, it’s all about leadership, law enforcement and education,” he insisted.
Orni’s remarks followed the welcome address by the incoming Israeli Ambassador to the European Union, David Walzer, who asked “What makes an anti-Semite anti-Israeli?” Continuing to answer the much-disputed question, he espoused that “anti-Semitism is not a politically correct term and so is now described as hatred of Zionism, hatred of the Jewish entity.”
Deploring the fact that many people make no distinction between Jews and Israelis, the Israeli envoy stressed that “there is a clear distinction between burning a synagogue and demonstrating outside an Israeli embassy”.
“Many Jews live outside of Israel, but people don’t make that distinction,” he added. “You cannot equate attacking religious Jews with attacking the Jewish State.”
Referring to his previous diplomatic posting in Denmark, where the chairperson of the Danish Palestinian Society lobbied him to redefine the Jewish State as “a State for all its citizens”, he added to rousing applause from the crowd, “why is ok for so many countries to define themselves as Christian but not for Israel to define itself as a State for the Jews”.
Other speakers at this second annual conference included European Jewish Parliament Co-Chairman Joel Rubinfeld who said that Europe must find a solution to the age-old problem of anti-Semitism, which he said threatens the core values of the EU itself.
"We are here to guarantee the "EU of never again’ will prevail. The future of Jews in Europe is at stake but also the future of Europe itself,” he declared, invoking the historical background to the formation of the European Union.
Also present was Andrew Cutting, Liaison Officer for the Council of Europe, an organisation he described as the “conscience of Europe.”
Invoking the recent debate over Bosnia Herzegovina’s constitution, which prevents Jews from standing for high office, he invoked a joint statement by Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule that such a country would not be accepted as an EU member state until the constitution is changed.
“Increased vigilance is needed to learn from the past and to ensure tolerance remains a vital part of European values,” he added.
A representative of another country seeking accession to the EU, Vesko Garcevic, Ambassador of Montenegro to Belgium and NATO, spoke of his country’s unique “respect for religious groups across the world”, as he invoked Montenegro’s mutual cooperation with its Jewish community, extending back to WWII, where the former Yugoslavian state was one of the few countries in Europe “to offer a safe haven for fleeing Jews during the Holocaust”.
In February, the country’s Prime Minister Igor Luksic signed an agreement with Jewish community leaders recognising Judaism as the country’s fourth official religion and setting the stage for a revival of the tiny community with the prospect of the opening of a synagogue in the capital, Podgorica.
Adding that no anti-Semitic incidents against Jews have been recorded in recent history in the small Balkan country, he said that “the history of the EU in the 20th century and the break-up of Balkan States reminds us peace can only be achieved through tolerance and mutual understanding”.
“These values must be continued by future generations, which will judge us not just by what we say, but by what we do,” he continued.
The lack of data collecting mechanisms in several EU member states “limits the ability of policy stakeholders at national and international level from taking action on anti-Semitism,” levelled Henri Nickels, Programme Manager at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), a Vienna-based intergovernmental body which helps individual EU countries in reconciling fundamental human rights and tolerance with the implementation of EU law.
Although doubts remained about the reliability of some national figures on anti-Semitism, “enough is available to know that anti-Semitism remains a serious concern,” he said, adding that as anti-Semitic incidents returned to their previous levels before Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009, it “confirmed events in Israel correlate to anti-Semitic incidents in the EU”.
The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has launched this week a major online survey of anti-Semitism in Europe, as the EU seeks to gain a better understanding of a problem many in the Jewish community believe to be of increasing concern.
The study is designed to produce new insights into how Jews in nine EU Member States perceive and experience antisemitism today.
Polish Member of the European Parliament MEP Michal Kaminski spoke of Israel and the Jewish nation being part of the European heritage, adding that "every Israeli soldier defends not just Israel from terrorism, but also Europe. "The values of Israel and the Jews are also the values of the EU."
Heralding Israel’s right to defend itself, he said that “although Israel is strong enough to do so, it also has friends within the EU and within the European Parliament who will defend it”.
He continued to berate Europe for being soft on Iran, which he accused of stirring up a new Holocaust, insisting that “in Iran’s case, Israel is only the first step – as with Hitler, Jews were only the first step”.
Describing the battle against anti-Semitism as a fight “for a better Europe and for European values”, he added: “We will fight anti-Semitism, we will win. We will fight terrorism, and we will win.”
“Anti-Zionism is the key to re-invigorating anti-Semitism,” asserted Flemish politician and author Andre Gantman. “Anti-Semitism is the new detergent to eliminate Auschwitz,” he added, invoking the phenomenon of Holocaust revisionism.
Whilst many speakers differentiated between the sources of anti-Semitism in western Europe, where it is often justified by the situation in Israel, and eastern Europe, where anti-Semitism is seen as more 'traditional' and endemic in its history, with like in Latvia, a revival of Nazism, Claude Moniquet, CEO of the European Strategic Intelligence & Security Centre (ESISC) asserted it's “naive” to say Communism was not synonymous with anti-Semitism, as by denouncing the phenomenon as bourgeois and distinct from Socialist ideals, nothing was done to counter it and it was allowed to flourish in Communist states.
“Communism was imposed by the outside” on Soviet states, he added, and since many of the original Russian communists were Jewish, they were vilified by Soviet nationalists. Referring to the rise of anti-Semitism in the Communist world in 1967, he said it was notable that “as Jewish persecution declined (elsewhere), it became part of government policy” in the Soviet states.
A key point of contention for several of the speakers was the Boycott Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, with Rubinfeld describing it as “one of the tools for those hoping to expel Jews from the international community and wipe Israel off the face of the map.”
Is the call for a boycott of Israel 'anti-Semitism' ?
BDS campaigner and Free University of Brussels (ULB) Law Professor Eric David contested that far from constituting anti-Semitism, “BDS is a response to Israeli violations of international law such as its occupation of Palestinian territories and a way to avoid complicity in war crimes.”
His comments, which were clearly not shared by many in the conference, were immediately refuted by Belgian lawyer Christophe Goossens who argued that “the real issue is not the fact that Israel exists (as a legal entity), but from a moral perspective, does it have a right to exist as a Jewish State”.
Putting it to the panel that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitism as it denies the Jewish people the right to its own state, whilst inconsistently contesting the Palestinians have a right to their own state, he insisted “anti-Zionism is not compatible with the view that Israel has a right to exist”.
David retorted to jeers from the crowd that “Israel has a moral right to exist if it withdraws to its 1967 borders”.
Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Institute Shimon Samuels berated “Jewish identity theft” for defining modern anti-Semitism, blaming the “seemingly incongruous conflation between the Holocaust and Soviet genocide” in eastern Europe, as well as the “appropriation” of the terms “BDS and apartheid” from South Africa to describe Israel policy, which he claimed delegitimized the phenomenon of anti-Semitism.
Slamming the international community for its muted condemnation of the Iranian regime’s threats against Israel, he said its increasingly hateful comments were “designed to test the limits of EU timidity”, which he described as the “anti-Semitism of indifference”.
“The convergence of anti-Semitism with terrorism and nuclear intent targets not only every Jew, but is a global threat,” he concluded.
For lawyer Mischael Modrikamen, who is President of a Belgian populist political party, “permanent statements by the EU condemning Israel also fuels anti-Semitism.”
Former Turkish parliamentarian and European Jewish Parliament foreign affairs committee co-chairman Cefi Kamhi alleged the threat of anti-Semitism came equally from within the Jewish sphere, characterising the biggest inner-communal problems as deriving from indifference, ignorance and immunity.
“There are indifferent Jews, there are ignorant Jews who don’t know their rights, and there are immune Jews who think they’re safe in their habitat and don’t think of other more vulnerable Jews," he said.
After he followed previous speakers in pointing to the power of legislation to “comply with the needs of the times”, British lawyer and fellow EP committee co-chairman Gordon Hausmann responded that “legal action can only be taken if there is a law – in many EU countries there are no such laws”, adding anti-Semitism could often only be addressed legally through the criminal courts.
Some speakers, like European Jewish Association (EJA) head Rabbi Menachem Margolin, also mentioned attacks against Jewish religious rituals such as the circumcision and the shechita, the kosher slaughter of animals, as a sign that “Jews are not welcome in Europe”.
Hausmann added that whilst laws were formerly invoked as tool to attack Israel and Israeli interests, such as banning key political figures guilty of “war crimes” on account of having served in the Israel Defence Force from entry into individual EU states, “now there is a legal onslaught against circumcision and kashrut”, which needs to be addressed according to legal definitions of causing harm.
A task force has been constituted within the European Jewish Parliament to deal with different aspects of the fight against anti-Semitism.