France 24 : “We don’t consider that peace is a given thing”

Concerned Jews urge European voters to reject extremes

(May 21, 2019) The campaign for this week’s European election has raised the spectre of a surge in extreme nationalist and populist views, and no community is more concerned than the continent’s Jews.

Recent years have seen an increase in anti-Semitic speech and violence in many parts of the continent, with once taboo language sometimes creeping into mainstream politics.

Before World War II and the Holocaust, Europe counted more than nine million Jews. Today the community numbers fewer than two million, and its leaders fear more departures.

European Jews are urging their neighbours to vote for unity and to reject extremism when they go to the polls in European Parliament elections set for Thursday through Sunday.

“We know… maybe better than anyone, what Europe was built on, after the Holocaust, after the horrors of the war,” Ariella Woitchik, director of European affairs at the European Jewish Congress (EJC), told AFP.

“And we don’t consider that peace is a given thing.”

Woitchik spoke in Brussels, the EU capital and a city where soldiers and police still mount guard outside synagogues and kosher shops five years after a murderous gun attack on the Jewish Museum.

The threat is not imagined or exaggerated, according to the European Union’s Agency of Fundamental Rights, which recently conducted a wide-ranging survey in 12 member states.

“Findings from the 2018 survey show that hundreds of respondents personally experienced an anti-Semitic physical attack in the 12 months preceding the survey,” the report said.

“More than one in four of all respondents experienced anti-Semitic harassment at least once during that period.”

In January, EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova spoke out against anti-Semitism, warning: “When Jews have left Europe in the past, it has never been a good sign of the state of Europe.”

But Jews are once again considering leaving Europe, as many did before and after World War II.

“The numbers have gone down in the past 20 years. There used to be two million Jews, it went down to 1.6 million,” Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and president of Conference of European Rabbis, told AFP.

“A lot of people left. We had a whole wave of terror in France, Belgium, Denmark and in other places. So we see these elections as extremely important, giving a message to the Jews of Europe that you’re still welcome in Europe.”

Modern European parties, even those on the far right, rarely openly espouse anti-Semitic views, but the recent election campaign has had worrying undercurrents for the community.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party has made a target of Jewish financier and philanthropist George Soros, accusing him of secretly plotting with Brussels to swamp Europe with immigrants.

“It wasn’t overt, but there were some tropes used,” Goldschmidt said.

This week Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland sparked outrage by declaring that if Warsaw paid reparations for Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust it would be Hitler’s “posthumous victory”.

This came after a far-right candidate in the Polish city of Kielce interrupted a televised debate to try to place a kippa on a ruling party candidate’s head, declaring: “They kneel before the Jews.”

For Goldschmidt, the excesses of the campaign reflect a broader trend of spreading hatred that has even seen German extremists marching with neo-Nazi symbols.

“We have the Brown Shirts marching in Germany. Anti-Semitism has again been invoked as part of the mainstream… politicians are not afraid to use it when they need it,” the rabbi said.

“World War II is turning into a memory and people are forgetting what it was like to live without a European Union, without all those values that are so important for a continent that was at constant war for hundreds of years.”

Jewish community leaders accept that many mainstream politicians have, in some cases belatedly, begun to realise the scale of the problem, even if they have struggled to confront it.

Groups like the EJC have been successful in some cases in convincing EU and member state agencies to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

But the tone of the debate in Europe has raised concerns, and community leaders have urged all to vote against the extremes.

“It’s definitely linked,” Woitchik argues. “Whether it comes from the left or the right, both extremes are extremely negative… It spreads hatred, whether it is online or… through very violent physical attacks”.

“So all this creates a feeling of anxiety among the Jewish community. Now we have even talked about an emergency feeling because if things don’t get better, people are even contemplating leaving Europe,” she said.

“The message that we are trying to spread now is to call on people to vote and to vote for a pro-European party.”

related

Subscribe to EJC newsletter

Get EJC's bi-weekly newsletter, including the latest statements and news from the European Jewish communities, direct to your inbox.

European Jewish Congress will use the information you provide on this form to contact you. We will treat your information with respect and will not share it with others. By clicking Subscribe, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

Statements

EJC President Kantor expresses concern about a Jewish future in Europe after release of FRA report on young Jewish Europeans

EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor has expressed great concern over the results of the FRA report “Young Jewish Europeans: perceptions and experiences of antisemitism.”

The study, at the initiative of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), critically records the experience of antisemitism among young European Jews, who are all too often the target of anti-Jewish hate.

EJC sends its deepest condolences to President Reuven Rivlin on the passing of his wife Nechama Rivlin

EJC sends its deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, on the passing of his beloved wife, Nechama Rivlin.

EJC calls comments by Polish PM on restitution a major distortion of the historic truth

EJC has called comments by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki saying that to pay restitution to Jews who survived the Holocaust would equate to “Hitler’s victory after his death” a major distortion.

EJC calls on all Europeans to reject extremism and stand up for fundamental values and freedoms

EJC calls on all Europeans to reject extremism and populism and to stand up for fundamental values and freedoms ahead of the European elections, which will take place between 23-26 May.