Some 50 European Muslim and Jewish faith leaders, who met for the first time Monday in Brussels, urged better protection of religious minorities in Europe and vowed to establish closer ties.
In a statement issued after their one-day encounter, they urged closer cooperation between the two communities and steps “to ensure that Jews and Muslims are able to practice our respective faiths fully and unimpeded by intrusive, discriminatory and unfair governmental regulations.”
It also urged “cooperative projects to succor the poor and homeless of all backgrounds, to help protect new immigrants who are threatened by hatred and xenophobia, and to heal the environment, bringing together Muslim and Jewish youth for joint programming.”
And it denounced all forms of violence in the name of any religion or ideology.
Monday’s event was organized by the European Jewish Congress along with the World Jewish Congress and the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU). Participants came from Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States.
In his speech, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor called on the EU countries to immediately adopt the framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia.
He outlined what he called the necessary foundations for a more tolerant Europe.
“It is vital that we invest greater efforts and resources into education, starting at the kindergarten level,” he said.
He continued: “All of Europe needs to have a common unifier, a starting point which all Europeans can rally around and that should be equality, reconciliation and preventing the spread of intolerance.“
“Above all we need to bolster legislation against hate, racism and xenophobia at all levels. The current legislation is not enough. The law must become a tool for a more enlightened and unified Europe where those that ferment hate should receive proper sanction.”
As part of the gathering, a joint delegation met with the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, who supported the efforts undertaken by the group. They also held a working lunch at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters.
“Today, we have hopefully kick-started a movement that will spread across Europe,” said FFEU President and WJC Vice President Rabbi Marc Schneier.
He called the recipe really “quite simple”. “Our two communities must focus more on what unites us than what separates us. We also must restrain the radicals within our own ranks and make sure they don’t gain the upper hand”.