Kantor Interfaith Conference 311.
(photo credit: Michael Thaidigsmann)
BRUSSELS – A delegation of Muslim and Jewish religious leaders from Europe met
with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels on Monday to share
their initiatives for bettering the relations between the communities, as well
as legislation to ensure the rights of the religious groups in
The meeting with the president was part of a daylong gathering of
some 50 city and state rabbis and imams from Western Europe, brought together
for panel discussions on the condition, but primarily the future, of relations
between Muslims and Jews in Europe, in a joint effort by the New York-based
Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and
the European Jewish Congress (EJC).
EJC head Moshe Kantor stressed in his
opening remarks how education was a key element in bringing about reconciliation
between the groups, and how legislation was key in ensuring tolerance toward
minority groups. Kantor, who brought The Jerusalem Post
to the event, reiterated
his call for EU countries’ need to immediately adopt the Framework Decision on
Combating Racism and Xenophobia.
Since the condition of the relations
between the faith groups differ from country to country, imams and rabbis from
the UK, France, Germany and Italy presented, in turn, the key issues and action
they were taking to face the challenges of their specific
Such challenges are influenced by endless factors, such as
the backgrounds of their flocks, their socioeconomic standings and the degree of
integration into mainstream society.
Later, the participants attended a
kosher-halal working lunch with senior officials at the European Commission, and
met with Van Rompuy, who expressed his support for the group’s efforts and
called for a “revolution of moderation” in religious communities in
In a private meeting with Van Rompuy, Kantor expressed his
concern over the condition of some Jewish communities, such as Malmö, Sweden,
where Jews are feeling forced to leave the city.
“If Jews are being
driven out of parts of Europe once again, this does not bode well for the future
of the continent,” Kantor, who co-chairs the European Council for Tolerance and
Reconciliation, told the president.
He also suggested that the EU impose
on its members and officials a code of behavior that would sanction those who
made anti-Semitic and racist remarks.
In addition, Kantor called on the
EU to end the freeze on its upgrade in relations with Israel.
“If we hope
to live in a free and peaceful world, we need to bolster the only democracy in
the Middle East, especially at a time when its mere presence is challenged,” he
said, referring to the threats from Iran.
Before the day wrapped up with
Hanukka candle-lighting and a dinner with the Brussels Diplomatic Corps, the
draft of a common statement calling for closer cooperation between the two
communities in Europe was presented. The statement expressed a wish to put an
end to “the mutual fear and resentment precipitated in large part by the
conflict in the Middle East, which all too often in recent years has caused
violence between members of our two communities.”
This campaign of
interfaith dialogue and understanding, the statement continued, “will strengthen
the forces of moderation in both communities and serve as a check to voices
preaching extremism and violence, that are a danger to the moderate majorities
in both communities, and to our efforts to build a united, free and pluralistic
future for Europe,” while taking steps “to ensure that Jews and Muslims are able
to practice our respective faiths fully and unimpeded by intrusive,
discriminatory and unfair governmental regulations.”
It concluded, “We
commit ourselves to successfully developing good Muslim-Jewish relations in our
communities and across Europe, thereby showing our two peoples and the larger
societies in which we live that Muslims and Jews can live and work together
fruitfully for the betterment of all.”
FFEU President and WJC Vice
President Rabbi Marc Schneier called Monday’s event “a promising
“Today, we have hopefully kick-started a movement that will
spread across Europe,” he said. “The recipe really is quite simple: Our two
communities must focus more on what unites us than what separates us. We also
must restrain the radicals within our own ranks and make sure they don’t gain
the upper hand.”
Schneier also noted the great importance of the
different religious groups expressing empathy with one another, noting as a
moving example the prayers that Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, chairman of the
Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, offered in his address for the
victims of the recent forest fire in the Carmel.
As one of the
participants said, “there is definitely room for hope. Five years ago, a meeting
such as today’s would never have taken place.”