Ceremony for Paris victims.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Last summer’s European “wave of anti-Israel sentiments...crossed the line into anti-Semitism,” the US State Department declared in its annual report on international religious freedom.
Released on Wednesday at a Washington press conference by Secretary of State John Kerry and Rabbi David Saperstein, US ambassador for religious freedom, the report declared that the surge in anti-Semitism in Western Europe last year “left many pondering the viability of Jewish communities in some countries.”
The annual report covers issues of religious freedom worldwide.
Asked how he determined the dividing line between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments, Saperstein replied that while criticism of any nation is appropriate, the difference is “on the cusp of that line when it holds one country to different standards than it would hold any other country.”
“Where it has often crossed the line is when groups try to argue that Israel is an inherently illegal state and doesn’t have a right to exist as a Jewish state and takes actions to delegitimize those fundamental rights,” he said.
“We think of that as the denial of rights to a person that are given to other similarly situated people, or the imposition of obligations on a person that are not applied to other people.
We normally think of that as racism. When it steps over that line, that it constitutes anti-Semitic activity and is not legitimate discourse about Israel’s policies.”
France last year experienced a 101 percent increase in anti-Semitic acts over 2013, including “numerous cases of physical violence against the Jewish community where individuals were targeted and beaten, and synagogues were firebombed,” according to the report.
This led to an upswing in emigration, with 7,231 Jews making aliya – up from 3,293 in 2013.
The report cited events such as the burning of a kosher grocery in Sarcelles, linked to anti-Israel protests at which both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments were voiced.
In an incident in Germany cited by the report, anti-Israel demonstrators chanted, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” while at a demonstration in Essen, anti-Israel provocateurs attempted to burn down a synagogue.
Sworn in as ambassador in February, Saperstein, the former director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, is the first Jew to hold his post.
He had previously served on US President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith- Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010 to 2011. He also was a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001.
Speaking at his swearing-in ceremony, Saperstein said, “Even in Western Europe we are witnessing a steady increase in rhetoric and acts of violence against Jewish individuals, synagogues, institutions and communities that we thought we would never see again after World War II.”Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.