In a few weeks we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a 1938 Nazi-led pogrom in which Jews were physically attacked and killed and Jewish institutions were destroyed.
While the hatred between different nations that dominated European history for so long has practically been overcome, Europe has clearly not learnt all of the lessons from its darkest hours. Recently, there has been a marked rise in many forms of intolerance, xenophobia, racism and anti-semitism.
Muslims in Corsica were recently the victims of a gun attack while celebrating the end of Ramadan. African immigrants have borne the brunt of incessant attacks by Italian mafia gangs and a Jewish youth was beaten unconscious with metal bars in Paris.
It is these and similar events that have led me to form the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation with former Polish president, Aleksander Kwaeniewski. The council is comprised of former heads of European states, Nobel Peace Prize laureates and other world individuals renowned for their achievements in promoting tolerance.
Together, we will carry the fight against intolerance to the streets of Europe. We want Europe’s politicians to work together to fight all forms of racism and xenophobia. We demand action, not just words.
We have decided that a council like ours with representatives from many corners of Europe and varied backgrounds will help create a movement to rid our nations of this scourge. It is better if we do this together, as Europeans, rather than just as citizens of our own countries, or as Christians, Jews and Muslims, each one on their own.
One of the initiatives discussed at our recent inaugural meeting was the establishment of a ‘European Day of Tolerance’, which will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht on 10 November. We hope this event will draw the attention of policy-makers to the issues of racism and xenophobia in Europe, when we formally present the statutes and principles of the ECTR to the European Parliament.
However, it is not just to the political leadership that we address our programme. Recent electoral gains by the far-right in many countries of Europe should be a worry for us all. Meanwhile, too many ordinary citizens are appalled by these results when they did not vote or take a stand against these racist parties.
It is easy for the extremists to garner a strong electoral showing because their constituency is active and passionate with a cause. It is up to all of us to awaken the apathetic majority to actively resist these racist and xenophobic elements and become impassioned to take up the opposing cause of tolerance.
The famous quote attributed to Irish philosopher, Edwin Burke, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for all good men to do nothing” is very instructive for all Europeans. Seventy years ago we witnessed evil triumph. While most Europeans were not actively involved in the Holocaust, many bystanders did not actively seek to oppose the horrors of that generation.
While we are not witnessing the death and destruction on the scale of those dark years, all Europeans must be vigilant and help stamp out the embers of hatred, intolerance and racism wherever they may be found.
Dr. Moshe Kantor is co-chair of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation and President of the European Jewish Congress