Jewish organizations worldwide expressed shock and dismay over the weekend following the announcement that the European Commission is planning on holding a conference that implies an equivalence between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
The first annual colloquium on fundamental rights in the EU, held by the commission and titled “Tolerance and respect: Preventing and combating anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe,” is scheduled to be held in Brussels in early October.
It will focus on the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment and violence across the continent and the “growing evidence in many European countries, especially in the past two years, of very high rates of anti-Muslim incidents, including acts of verbal and physical violence,” according to the organizers.
Jewish community leaders in Europe and elsewhere told The Jerusalem Post that despite being largely supportive of the FRA’s work, they believed it inappropriate for it to juxtapose hate directed against Muslims with anti-Semitism as if both were one and the same.
“The challenge of combating anti-Semitism would be better served by a stand-alone colloquium fully focused on the problem,” said Eric Fusfield, the legislative affairs director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy.
“Opponents of anti-Semitism have tried for years to promote greater understanding of anti-Semitism as a distinct phenomenon with unique dimensions sometimes requiring unique solutions,” he said.
“It is true that some strategies for combating anti-Semitism may apply to other forms of intolerance as well, but the fact is that, for too long, the tendency of governments and international organizations to conflate anti-Semitism with other social illnesses has served as a means of avoiding the problem rather than addressing it head on, even as the crisis facing Jewish communities has intensified in Europe and elsewhere,” he added.
While it is “critical” to deal with discrimination against Muslims in Europe, the FRA “should have been more sensitive to the long and tragic history of anti-Semitism in Europe and kept these two issues separate, particularly in the context of the most recent anti-Jewish violence,” agreed Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman.
“These problems are totally different, the origin of both problems is very different, the only common point is that both are racism,” asserted Eli Ringer of Belgium’s FORUM der Joodse Organisaties.
According to Ringer, even though the FRA is exhibiting good intentions by organizing the conference, he fears that “some might profit from such a colloquium to evade the issue of anti-Semitism.”
England’s Community Security Trust, an anti-Semitism watchdog, was likewise opposed to the format of the conference.
According to Michael Whine, CST director of government and international affairs, many European countries seek to “equate anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in the same breath and they are not the same. Muslims are suffering in Europe, and that is being monitored, but it’s certainly not coming from the Jews, whereas many of the attacks against Jews are coming from the Muslims.”
“The growing problem of anti-Semitism in Europe comes from Muslims and the Left and anti-Israel agitators,” he added.
In its announcement of the conference, the FRA pointed to other roots for the rise in anti-Semitism, citing a recent Pew study indicating that “incitement and hostility rooted in theological and other discourse, far-right ideologies and Holocaust denial are growing in Europe.”
“There is a heightened interest [regarding anti-Semitism], obviously influenced by the recent events in Paris and Copenhagen and so on,” Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, the head of the FRA’s Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department, told the Post, referring to a number of recent terrorist attacks against Jews by Muslim extremists.
Research by the FRA indicates that “there is a problem which we haven’t resolved yet [and] we have to do more about it,” he said.
Asked if he thought that there was any problem with juxtaposing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the context of the conference, Dimitrakopoulos replied negatively.
“I don’t think so, because first of all tackling anti-Semitism is part of a wider effort to tackle prejudice and intolerance, and somebody who suffers from a hate crime and hate speech can be Jewish, can be Muslim, can be lesbian or gay, can be Roma, can be a member of minorities that live within societies in Europe,” he said.
“I think that the approach to single out each one and see how we can tackle each one has not worked out, and it’s very important to see how we can build up a common approach to this,” he said, adding that “it is very important also to note the Jewish communities are largely behind this effort.”
“Nobody is denying that there are problems between the groups [Muslims and Jews] but one needs to look at it also from a common perspective,” Dimitrakopoulos asserted.
Not everyone in the Jewish community was fully opposed to the way in which the colloquium is to be organized.
“The Jewish people do not have a monopoly on persecution,” remarked Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which sponsors Jewish- Muslim interfaith events on the continent.
“This is an opportunity for Jews and Muslims to recognize that we share both a common faith and a common fate.
Yet, the Fundamental Rights Commission of the EU must acknowledge that a contributing force to growing European anti-Semitism are elements of the Muslim community.”
Maurice Cohen, the chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, was likewise rather sanguine about the conference.
“As Irish people, we are all too aware of how sectarian and religious intolerance has affected relations between Catholic and Protestant traditions in Ireland, and therefore we welcome any and all initiatives by the EU or anyone seeking to examine and highlight the futility and destructive nature of intolerance and xenophobia within societies,” he said.
“Time and perhaps the conclusions of the colloquium will tell how effective this initiative will have been and whether or not it was correct to examine both anti-Semitism together with anti-Muslim hatred,” he said.
“As a small Jewish community in Ireland, we have experienced differing degrees of intolerance over the years. It should be pointed out, however, that this has been very infrequent and not anything like that experienced by Jewish communities on the continent,” he added.
“We have excellent relations with the Muslim community here in Ireland and they have informed us that they too experience varying forms of prejudice and intolerance against their community,” he concluded.
The FRA had previously drawn Jewish ire after it removed a working definition of anti-Semitism from its website in 2013.