In one of the most famous and motivational ethical messages, Hillel the Elder asks, “If not now, when?” This simple rallying cry against inaction and passivity has guided people throughout the centuries and should become the cri de coeur for European Jewry which is facing a dark and difficult chapter in its long history.
For almost 10 years, European Jewry has been facing an onslaught of unspeakable cruelty from an ideology and hatred that wishes to extinguish the long-standing flame of Jewish life on the continent.
From the kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the gunning down of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 to the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last year.
These, along with the recent murder of four Jews at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris two weeks ago, are only some of the most high profile massacres of Jews, purely because they are Jews, by radical Islamists, in recent years.
After every one of these events and many more that have left dozens of Jews dead or maimed, there were the usual solidarity marches and honest, heartfelt communications of grief and commonality by European officials, and the promises of action taken.
On several occasions, authorities, most honorably the French and Belgian governments, stepped up their actions to defend Jews and Jewish institutions from imminent threats.
In recent years, the European Jewish Congress has acted to safeguard the community. Right after the attack on the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse, we formed a Security and Crisis Center in Brussels to assist Jewish communities in Europe to prepare and apply local community crisis plans, to enable them to face and handle various crisis situations in coordination with local authorities. This center provided immediate community support and coordination with local authorities following the Jewish Museum killings.
It is time, however, to move beyond mere defense and take the battle to the perpetrators. Thus far, the strategy has been to infringe further on the lives of the victims, such as when the French authorities shut down Jewish- owned shops in the prominently Jewish Marais district the day after the Hyper Cacher attack.
While it is perfectly understandable that the authorities wish to prevent the loss of life, these actions, by disrupting the attempt at normalcy of Jewish citizens, give another victory to the perpetrators.
The European Jewish community cannot permanently be asked to retreat behind armed guards and tall fences. This will encourage Jews to leave and seek a free and secure life, which will in turn further motivate the jihadist terrorists.
It is time for a concrete, holistic and pan-European response to stem these outrages and allow European Jewish communities to return to normal. If we are ever going to be able to lower the barbed-wire fences around Jewish kindergartens, allow Jewish symbols to openly return to European cities and Jews to walk proud in the streets, we need a clear road map, a plan of action.
Next week on Monday and Tuesday, the European Jewish Congress, in cooperation with the Czech government and the European Parliament, will hold events in Prague and Terezin, with dozens of European speakers of parliaments and leading political and public figures, to create an action plan to lead the fight back against the terrorist scourge which is engulfing large parts of our continent.
These events will be a platform for discussing the dangerous rise in anti-Semitism, racism and jihadism on the continent and finding practical solutions and recommendations for dealing with these threats. The forum, titled “Let My People Live!” will serve a practical purpose, to raise awareness among opinion shapers and decision makers in the civil, political and legal spheres, so they will have the tools to act and motivate others to act against the enemies, not just of the Jewish People, but of Europe and the West as a whole.
Furthermore, as I said to High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in a meeting last week, we need to establish a special task force to deal with anti-Semitism.
There needs to be one authority and one plan of action for a pan-European response to anti-Semitism.
It is the responsibility of European governments to protect their citizens, and the Jewish citizens of Europe deserve nothing less.
To win this war, and it is a war, as French Prime Minister Valls has so courageously defined it, we must take it to the perpetrators and not let them win by imposing further restrictions on the victims.
Jewish communities across the continent are at the breaking-point, as a result of the almost daily attacks and threats.
Enough talk, enough marches and enough expressions of sympathy. To the European Jewish community, these are all expressions of good will. They remain, however, meaningless and empty expressions if they are not followed by action.
If not after a decade of relentless attacks on Jews across Europe, culminating in the murder of four Jews in a Paris kosher supermarket, then when?
The writer is president of the European Jewish Congress.