Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass
‘Every society driven by hate […] ends by destroying itself’ (Lord Jonathan Sacks)
The second conference this year in the framework of Article 17 TFEU dialogue between the European Parliament and representatives of confessional, and philosophical and humanist organisations was held on 27 September 2016. Convened by EP President Martin Schulz and Antonio Tajani, Vice-President with responsibility for implementation of Article 17 TFEU, the event, which was attended by approximately 250 participants, was devoted to the future of the Jewish communities in Europe. The theme could scarcely be more topical, given the context of growing anti-Semitism, and violence against Jews in the EU, with growing numbers of Jews leaving Europe in recent years.
Vice-President Tajani’s opening speech, stressed the traditional presence of Jews in Europe, and was mirrored in President Schulz’s closing remarks on the essential contribution of Jewish communities to European culture and identity. The President’s statement that Europe has to be a better home for its Jewish citizens echoed concerns expressed by Members of the EP and representatives of the Jewish communities present at the event. The keynote speaker, Lord Jonathan Sacks (former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth), presented the evolution of anti-Semitism through the long history of discrimination against the Jewish community in Europe to the present day, in his speech ‘The Mutating Virus’.
Three panel discussions (on the current situation in Europe, national patterns and experiences and future perspectives) provided contributions from Jewish spiritual leaders, academics and intellectuals. The panellists analysed the alarming statistics on anti-Jewish violence, hate crimes, anti-Holocaust rhetoric and violence in the streets and on the internet. Speakers explained the mechanisms behind anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist views, which feed into extremism both on the left and right side of the political spectrum, and translate into anti-Semitism. They also spoke about the impact on Jewish children of seeing soldiers protecting their schools, kosher shops, and places of worship. As solutions, they stressed: the need to strengthen European security policy; for education on human rights and European values, and on the Jewish contribution to Europe’s development; to better integrate immigrants and refugees from areas where strong anti-Jewish sentiment prevails; the need for a common definition of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism; and for a common framework for penal measures.
The final speaker, the prominent French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, sounded a more optimistic note, stressing the differences between the Europe of the 1930s and now. Despite certain similarities in the political context, characterised by successive crises, growing populism, anti-Semitism, and terrorism, Mr Levy underlined the common position among political figures in Europe, who strongly condemn the violence and discrimination against Jewish communities in Europe. Conscious that anti-Semitism will never stop or disappear, he stated that the way forward is for the Jewish communities to be strong and proud of their contribution to European culture, science and history, and to affirm their place in Europe.