The malaise at the heart of Europe

“Would you mind removing your kippa for security reasons?”

Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount for Jerusalem Day, May 13, 2018 (photo credit: MENACHEM SHLOMO)
Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount for Jerusalem Day, May 13, 2018
(photo credit: MENACHEM SHLOMO)
The one sentence that sums up the malaise at the heart of Europe.
“You have to hear this”, said our usually un-flappable and very level-headed chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin. So, when he said that, we all knew something significant was about to be said. But even now, as I write this, it seems so ludicrous to repeat out loud, particularly considering the source it came from.
The more I think about it about it, the more it speaks volumes and underlines how deep the malaise currently affecting European political and cultural thought goes. You will have to wait a bit longer for the punchline, first let’s put it into context: At the end of last week, we at the European Jewish Association and our partners at Europe Israel Public Affairs, the European Jewish Community Centre and European Coalition for Israel twinned European Parliamentarians, EU Institution policy heads and Jerusalem’s brightest and best high-tech entrepreneurs and venture partners for the second of our annual High Tech conferences in the European Parliament. The conference was organized by the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Israeli Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage. Oscar bit done, now the story.
Jerusalem, as you will all know, has been in the news a lot recently, but the message from us, and taken to heart and mind by those present was clear: let the politics take care of itself, we have lots in common, lots to share, we already do great work together under the framework agreement and through horizon 20-20 (EU programs that the EU and Israel participate in), let’s just get the job done together.
Hosted by Romanian Socialist MEP Andi Cristea and Lithuanian Liberal MEP Petras Austrevicius, the three panels, heard about incentivizing on the part of policy makers to encourage and stimulate action and innovation, the role of venture capital and creating a business angel network, embracing failures as part of success, and lastly but my no means least, establishing and nurturing innovative grass roots communities.
What events like this show is that at EU level, despite the inherent broader political difficulties, there is a clear appetite to co-operate and develop Israel innovation partnerships further, and in particular foster ties going forward with Jerusalem.
Given the acres of news coverage on the city in recent weeks, it’s a great and positive sign, and a signal that those who are intent on framing the entire EU-Israel relationship based on what happens in the peace process are increasingly in the minority.
Later that evening, in busy place Luxembourg, we held a hugely successful high-tech night that brought hundreds of young professionals – the very future of Europe – in touch with the best technology that Israel, and in particular Jerusalem offers. Over the course of the evening beers were shared, fun was had, and some great Jerusalem street food was served. The atmosphere was convivial and the heavy politics not even on our lips. This was a celebration of our commonality, what we share, what we can co-operate on and the unfathomable possibilities that the human mind, when working for the greater good, is capable of.
“Would you mind removing your kippa for security reasons?” asked the Belgian policeman to Margolin. Boom. Back to earth with a bump.
Welcome to Brussels in 2018. Where perceived security and provocation from the forces of law and order stems from the act of wearing a kippa, instead of those who find it an affront in the first place.
This logic implies that a girl could be asked to not wear a skirt because she might provoke a rapist, or that a priest should remove his collar in case someone from ISIS takes offence at the ‘infidel’. Is this really what passes as maintaining security in Brussels these days? Where the majority of peaceful, law abiding people of whatever background shouldn’t wear signs of their belief, or what they feel comfortable in, to pander to the fascist ideas and base tendencies of the few? Soft power, such as our Jerusalem day event, goes a long way to build meaningful bridges between Jews and nonJews, between Israel and the EU. But shocking comments and requests such as the one that Margolin was subjected to underline that we can never rest on our laurels, that the task might not be as futile as Sisyphus’, but there is still much uphill work to be done.
The writer is the director of Public Affairs for the European Jewish Association, a Brussels based NGO, which represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and wider European continent, at the heart of the European Institutions and at bilateral level with Member States.