The mother of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jew murdered in a brutal attack in 2006, told a conference on anti-Semitism held at the European Parliament on Monday about the importance of fighting anti-Semitism so that her son would not become a “detail of history.
Speaking in the same chamber in which the far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen said that the Third Reich’s gas chambers were “a detail of history,” Ruth Halimi gave an emotional account on how her son was tortured for three weeks and then killed by a gang of Muslim immigrants in a Parisian suburb in February 2006.
Halimi’s poignant words were heard by members of the Parliament, diplomats, religious and communal leaders from around the continent taking part in the one-day conference organized by the European Jewish Congress, under the patronage of the Czech presidency of the European Union and Hans-Gert Pottering, president of the European Parliament.
Titled “Building Together the Future of Europe: The fight against anti-Semitism, defending European values and coexistence,” the conference aimed to look at how to face the challenges posed by anti-Semitism and intolerance, and promote coexistence.
The conference called on the European Parliament to take immediate steps to combat racism and the current rise in anti-Semitism across Europe in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.
Opening the conference, Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said Europe faced three dangers – the current economic crisis; Iran’s nuclear ambitions and sponsorship of international terrorism; and the “crisis of tolerance.”
“As usual, history teaches us that it does not teach anything. Europe again does not see that everything starts with Jews,” he said.
Kantor said that in France, Germany and Britain in January 2009 there were more anti-Semitic incidents than in all of 2008.
“Europe did not demonstrate any significant reaction to this,” he said.
“Today anti-Semitism has been amplified through the recent war in Gaza, through the economic and financial crisis and through societies and governments that are in search of a perfect scapegoat.
“This phenomenon is not only affecting Jews. In fact, economic and financial crisis is dangerous because it seeks out several scapegoats, creating xenophobia and racism on a larger scale, targeting and attacking minorities and foreigners.
“That is why we are here today; to create awareness of and to confront anti-Semitism in all its forms: traditional, modern, structural and contextual,” Kantor said.
Jacques Barrot, vice president of the European Commission, said anti-Semitism remained a curse.
“We have to mobilize in order to state our principles loud and clear. It is true that the economic crisis might make the problem more acute,” he said.
In reference to the UN conference on racism to be held in Switzerland, known as Durban II, Barrot said: “The EU should closely monitor the events at Durban and react immediately if there is any diversion from the agreed upon line.”
He continued: “If necessary we will call on the EU member states to withdraw from the conference if we see violations of core European values in Geneva.”
“We strongly insist and recommend to all the European countries to consider Durban II as a challenge to the coexistence in Europe,” Kantor said.
Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, head of the Research and Data Collection at the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, showed how anti-Semitic incidents in Europe were on the rise. He warned also said there was serious under-reporting in official data collection systems of most member states, based on police records, and showed there were flaws in the reporting of anti-Semitism in Europe.
“Not all anti-Semitic incidents are categorized as such and not all anti-Semitic incidents are reported by victims,” he said.
Mike Whine, director of international affairs at Britain’s Community Security Trust, said reliable statistics were very rare and that countries lacked the capacity to record anti-Semitism at scientific levels.
He said he thought anti-Semitic incidents were rising and remained at a high level.
Several MEPs spoke of the need to combat anti-Semitism working with the European Parliament.
Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a German MEP, said anti-Semitism was still very much alive, using anti-Zionism themes to transport ideas.
“Denial of Israel’s right to exist has become fashionable – this is modern anti-Semitism. This is why it would be more important that the European Parliament in its statement becomes very clear about anti-Semitism,” Koch-Mehrin said.
“Some EU parliamentarians hide behind ‘Muslim pressure’ instead of working toward eradicating anti-Semitism,” said Paulo Casaca, a Portuguese MEP from the Party of European Socialists.
Other parliamentarians said that failure to recognize the right of Israel to defend itself was indicative of anti-Semitism, as this was a basic right of every nation.
Jan Marinus Wiersma, a Dutch MEP and vice president of the Party of European Socialists group, condemned the decision to allow Le Pen to address the Parliament.
Representatives of Jewish communities across Europe presented reports about the situation in their countries.
Rony Smolar, president of the Finnish Jewish community and representative of Scandinavian countries, said that things have got worse since the 2006 Lebanon war, which he said brought left-wingers and neo-Nazis together, and that there had been a sharp rise in anti-Semitism, simultaneous with Holocaust denial and the accusation that Jews dominated global finance.
Ron Azogui, director-general of the the French Jewish community’s security services, said that in 2008 there had been 474 acts of anti-Semitic incidents, and a call for violence against the “Zionists” of France, which he said was new language. He said there has been a rise in France of support for “armed resistance,” with Hizbullah flags on display everywhere.
The conference also heard from leaders of other faiths and communities who described what needed to be done to combat intolerance, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
Mohammed Shifaoui, a French/Algerian journalist who claimed that he managed to infiltrate al-Qaida, said extremism was a real threat today in Europe.
“We democrats need to take ownership of these issues. If we were to safeguard something, we need to fight for our existence, against the evils of hatred,” he said.
Closing the conference, Kantor vowed to continue the fight against anti-Semitism.
“Human diversity is our treasure and should not be a source of conflict,” he declared.