A group of pro-Israel lawmakers gathered in the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday to speak out against the oldest hatred and the increasingly contemporary convergence of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
The parliamentary event came two days after news emerged that an international terrorist cell that planned a major attack against Jewish institutions in Greece had been arrested.
Titled “The Multiple Faces of Antisemitism in Europe,” the conference was led by members of the European Parliament and of national parliaments throughout Europe, and various pro-Israel organizations.
“Antisemitism is a threat not just for the Jewish people, but it is a poison for our society, our values and our democracy,” European Parliament member Niclas Herbst of Germany told the audience in the jam-packed parliamentary conference hall at the opening of the event. “It is a topic that does not need any introduction.”
“Many Europeans live with distorted views of Jews and the Holocaust,” said MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen of the Netherlands, citing multiple surveys showing a lack of knowledge of the Holocaust among young people eight decades after the murder of 6 million Jews.
“It is unfortunate that fighting antisemitism is still a topic that is relevant today,” said Valeriu Ghileţchi, president of the European Christian Political Movement, who is from Moldova.
“Antisemitism is an age-old societal scourge that continues to reinvent itself in new forms, often today in the guise of anti-Zionism,” said Oriana Marie Krueger, director for European affairs at the Combat Antisemitism Movement. “We must work together in a broad collective effort leveraging creative approaches to confront and ultimately defeat this menace threatening Jewish communities both in Europe and across the globe.
“Antisemitism is not a problem for Jews to solve,” said Krueger, noting that she is both a non-Jew and a German. ”We need an alliance of all faiths.”
“Faith-based diplomacy in support for Israel is one of the most powerful tools available today to combat the steady rise of antisemitism around the world, including its most recent manifestation, anti-Zionism,” said Josh Reinstein, president of the Israel Allies Foundation.
He said that institutional antisemitism had taken root in places such as the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and the European Parliament, where Israel is singled out as an alleged aggressor.
“We learn from history that it always starts with the Jews but never ends with the Jews, said Reinstein.
Duplicitous double standard
Others in attendance said that the European Parliament was exhibiting a duplicitous double standard by being silent on Palestinian antisemitism.
“We cannot sit here in the European Parliament condemning antisemitism without calling out Palestinian antisemitism,” said Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum. ”Members of the European Parliament speak out against antisemitism but turn their back on Palestinian hatred, incitement and violence against Jews.”
He argued that the age-old classic antisemitism prevalent in many quarters of Europe is simply masquerading as anti-Zionism and that the two are in essence the same.
“Anti-Zionism is antisemitism, no if’s, buts or maybes,” said Ostrovsky.
Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, who was scheduled to speak at the conference, canceled her participation at the eleventh hour, citing a personal emergency.
“Education is the base of everything and we see that it is very one-sided here in Belgium and then permeates to schools, universities, media and culture,” said Patricia Teitelbaum, president of the Brussels-based International Movement for Peace and Coexistence.
Other speakers said that the “demonization” of religious aspects of Jewish life in Europe such as kosher slaughter and circumcision exacerbated existing tensions.
“If practices of Jewish faith are banned or demonized it creates a situation where traditional Jewish life has to remain hidden,” said Ruth Daskalopoulou-Isaac, head of E.U. relations at the European Jewish Association.
All the speakers concurred that it was critical to bring together people of all faiths in fighting Jew-hatred.
“We need to address the silent majority not to be silent anymore,” said MEP Miriam Lexmann of Slovakia. “We must speak so that there is no silent majority anymore,” said MEP Helmut Geuking of Germany.