Jewish protesters in Krakow call for reopening of synagogue, the sign on the right reads ‘Jewish community is not only for the Jakubowicz family. (photo credit: Courtesy)
“There is no Europe without Jews,” Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, said two years ago.
Unfortunately, the second European Jewish community, in Malmö, Sweden, could soon be dissolved in a few years. Not by choice, not because they wanted to move somewhere else, but simply because they fear for their lives and the safety of their families.
This is scandalous and should become an outrage for every decent European.
For centuries, perhaps even millennia, the Jewish community has been a type of bellwether for the societal health of the European continent.
If one looks back throughout history, when the Jews did not feel safe and were oppressed, enslaved, expelled and massacred, it was usually in places and at times when the continent was facing traumatic and unstable convulsions among the populace.
Whether the Crusades, the Reconquista, the Reformation, or before each of the two World Wars of the last century, each were preceded and accompanied by massive expressions of hate toward the Jews from within and without.
Whole countries, towns and cities were wiped clean of their Jews, either through massacre, forcible conversion or expulsion. Not infrequently, a mix of the three.
After the Holocaust, broken bodies and souls attempted to give the European continent one last chance by returning to the homes they lived in before the war or venturing toward new countries and lands.
Despite antisemitism never being extinguished and keep raising its ugly head on many occasions since, Jews once again adapted to their new surroundings and tried to contribute beyond their numbers to the societies they lived in whether through science, culture and innovation.
Many thought the days of relocation and replacement were long in the past.
However, it appears that we were far too optimistic, as in May, for the first time in many decades, a Jewish community was dissolved due to security concerns, and it does not look like it will be the last.
Beginning in 2016, neo-Nazis from the Nordic Resistance Movement started pasting stickers with fascist imagery on Sweden’s Umea’s Jewish community center, “making the place look like after Kristallnacht,” in the words of one of Umea’s Jewish leaders. The closure followed surveillance activity on the center by the neo-Nazis, who published details about individual visitors.
Now it seems as if the Jewish community in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, is also considering dissolving itself due to antisemitism. Whereas in Umea the greatest threat came from neo-Nazis, in Malmö it is from Muslim immigrants and the far Left.
EUROPE IS already convulsing under much instability. It is a continent still reeling from the financial crisis of 2007-8, with challenging austerity plans across the continent, the uncertainty over Brexit, and the rise of the far-right and far-left populist parties.
The European Union, which was meant to serve as a bulwark against intolerance and fanaticism and bring together a more cohesive and unified continent saw in recent years the strengthening of euroskeptic, far-right and nationalist parties.
This combination of economic uncertainty and frailty, and rising populism and nationalism, is ominous for the Jewish community who follows these events very closely because of our intimate understanding of the winds of history.
Of course, no one is claiming that this clearly replicating the 1930s and a new Holocaust is in the offing. However, the atmosphere in parts of Europe is eerily reminiscent and the effect is worryingly similar, nonetheless.
The big difference between then and now is that European countries are largely dominated by leaders who speak out against antisemitism and try and reassure their Jewish communities.
However, this is clearly not enough, and words, as well as the much welcomed solidarity are not saving Jews from savage attacks, which makes them question their future.
According to a poll released by EU agency for fundamental rights (FRA) last December, close to 40% of European Jews have considered leaving their home countries over the past five years because of rising antisemitism.
This figure is alarming and should be a call to massive and unprecedented action. It should mean a continental-wide call to arms to invest in a safer future for European Jewry.
It should mean that the fight against antisemitism should begin in schools where we educate to tolerance.
It should mean greater policing and harsher punishments for those whose words inspire hate against Jews, whether online or in marches in our main city streets.
It should mean an effective identification, investigation and prosecution of antisemitic hate crimes.
It should mean the immediate adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism by all European governments and relevant bodies and institutions.
Security and safety for Jewish communities should not be left to them to provide, but should be undertaken by the authorities who have a duty to safeguard and protect our communities and institutions. This basic responsibility of all governments should not be privatized.
These and other steps have to be taken now. The times for discussions is over, and if the fate of Jewish communities is not enough of a motivating factor, then the future of Europe should be.
As Timmermans stated and as history has amply demonstrated, the battle against antisemitism and for the safety and security of European Jewry is no less than the battle for Europe’s soul and future.
The writer is president of the European Jewish Congress, the World Holocaust Forum and the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, where he leads the struggle against antisemitism and racism and the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation, human rights and interfaith dialogue.
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