Race to balance freedom and security for future of European Jewry

Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman says Europeans “have to change the way they are managing and monitoring everyday society,” like Americans did after 9/11.

May 11, 2015 03:40
3 minute read.
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Members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews hold up signs reading "I am Charlie," "I am Jewish" and "I am Ahmed," during an event in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The future of Jewish life in Europe will be in large part dependent on the way in which national leaders there respond to attacks on their freedom and liberty, Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

According to Foxman, who is in Jerusalem for the biennial Global Forum on anti-Semitism, Europeans need to begin examining the balance between freedom and security as Americans did following the September 11 attacks fourteen years ago.

After 9/11 Americans “were willing to make sacrifices in some of our basic freedoms,” ushering in the use of mass surveillance, profiling and other controversial measures whose propriety and legitimacy are still being debated today. While the exact balance between security and freedom is an open question, he said, in America “we are willing to pay a price to protect our traditions” and the question is if Europe is willing to do the same.

Europeans, Foxman said, “have to change the way they are managing and monitoring everyday society.” The Jewish community, he continued, is watching how their governments respond to see if their societies are “willing to fight for their freedom and liberty.”

Asked about critics of Europe such as Hebrew University anti-Semitism scholar Dr. Robert Wistrich, who have charged that Europeans are unwilling to recognize the role played by Islamic immigrants in the rising tide of Jew hatred, Foxman said that while it is certainly a problem, things are not as dire as may be thought.

“If you are not willing to recognize your enemy for who they are and name them” it will be hard to combat threats, he said. “So when [French President Francois] Hollande said after [January’s massacre at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine that] this crime had nothing to do with Islam, who did it have to do with?” Despite the myopia and oversensitivity exhibited by some, however, the governments in Belgium and France are “addressing the underlying cause but are just unwilling to say so,” Foxman added.

“One should take a look at arrests [during the] last couple of months, they are from that community because that’s where threats come from. They are not comfortable publicly declaring we are ‘surveilling mosques,’” he explained.

According to Foxman, Jews in Europe are now, for the first time since the end of the Holocaust, confronted by three choices: assimilating so as not to be recognizably Jewish, defiantly remaining Jews and bearing the consequences or emigrating.

While a mass exodus of European Jews is unlikely in the short term and Jews worldwide must be concerned for the bulk of those who remain there, he said, it is important to “asses where exit strategies are more likely to happen sooner rather than later.”

Asked if he believed that the Europeans have done enough to protect their Jewish minorities, he said that from the point of view of those in danger it’s almost never enough but that he believes that local leaders have come a long way from a decade ago when there was widespread denial regarding the rise of anti-Semitism.

Now there is a more vocal response, a recognition of the issue and the deployment of security forces to protect Jewish institutions, he said, praising the progress that has been made.

Pointing to France, which recently announced that it will allocate significant funding to tolerance education, Foxman said that such moves are part of a “long-term process but has to begin somewhere.”

That being said he cautioned, legislation on issues of hate is not in short supply across Europe, but rather the “political will” to implement it is.

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