E.U. Official: ‘Huge Challenge’ To Reassure Jews

featured in:

share the article

New strategy in the fight against terrorism to be ready by May; Poll: 24% of UK youth expect another Holocaust

The EU faces a “huge challenge” to reassure Jews about their future in Europe after Islamist attacks in Paris, a top official said Wednesday as it discussed fresh counter-terror measures. European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said the 28-nation bloc was determined to respond in keeping with its core values of tolerance and inclusion, promising a new strategy would be ready by May.

“Today we see in some of our member states that a majority of the Jewish community is not sure that they have a future in Europe,” he said. “I think this is a huge challenge to the very foundation of European integration,” he added.

He said the issue was more important than the single European currency or internal markets or other initiatives.

Timmermans said Europeans must use education and other tools “to make sure that we don’t lose part of our population to extremism, to fanaticism, to exclusion.”

“Whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian or atheist, everybody has a place in this society,” he added.

Timmermans said the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, would work especially hard to meet European Parliament concerns over data protection which have held up agreement on an air passenger tracking system. The Commission will do everything to develop a “strategy that offers hope and prospects for everyone in Europe,” he said.

Many member states back use of the Passenger Name Record system as an essential tool to track suspected “foreign fighters” but lawmakers have held up an EU-wide system for years.

Timmermans said the Commission would “see if we can change our proposal to meet these concerns,” stressing that Europe had to been seen as “taking its job seriously” in countering the militant threat. At the same time, security remained the responsibility of member states and the European Union’s role was to “assist them, support them so that jointly they can (meet) that responsibility.”

Europe’s greatest fear is that disaffected citizens who go to fight with extremist groups such as the Islamic State group in Syria or Iraq and return home even more radicalized and battle hardened. Timmermans raised the possibility that the EU could look at tightening up its Schengen passport-free system so as to boost checks on its external border to pick up militants.

Asked about possible intelligence sharing, Timmermans said member states appeared more confident on the issue but also cited “some obstacles” without detailing them. Most EU states have been reluctant to open up their intelligence networks to anyone except their most trusted allies for fear of harmful leaks.

“Extremism is nothing new”

Meanwhile in Davos, Switzerland an unusual panel on religion at the World Economic Forum took place on Wednesday .

In a wide-ranging debate that took in conflicts in the Middle East, Nigeria, Central African Republic as well as the recent Paris attacks, the panel all agreed on one unfortunate fact: there’s nothing new under the sun.

“Extremism is nothing new. We had extremism in the 20th century through Communism, through Fascism, both of which were ideologies that were profoundly anti-religion,” said Tony Blair, a committed Christian, who is now a Middle East peace envoy.

“It’s not religion per se that were causes of conflict. However, today, the ideology that is most threatening our security is an ideology based on a perversion of religion,” added Blair, referring to radical Islam.

Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a top Islamic scholar, agreed that radical Islam was what he called a “perversion,” arguing that traditional Islam was “one of the exceptional religious movements that allowed other religions to live peacefully among them.”

And Rabbi David Rosen, from the American Jewish Committee, said religion was being skewed to manipulate people, in a downward spiral that leads inevitably to violence. “When we feel threatened, it’s natural and desirable to turn to religion,” he said.

This then leads to a them-against-us mentality as “people actually believe that they are doing what God wants”, he said.

The religious leaders also found common ground when discussing the limits of freedom of expression in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris earlier this month. Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in and around the offices of the French satirical magazine, claiming “revenge” for the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, which most Muslims find blasphemous.

After the shooting, Charlie Hebdo again published a cartoon featuring Mohammed, which sparked anger and riots in many Muslim countries, some turning deadly.

Muslim representative Hanson voiced the strongest objections to the prophet’s depiction. The publication of the cartoons was an “absolute lack of civility and common decency”, he said. “You can condemn and criticize religion … all those things are fine but you can’t mock and disrespect people,” he added.

“Radicalization is very easy when you mock what people hold dear,” Hanson pointed out.

Meanwhile, Rosen told AFP that insulting people’s religion was in many ways worse than insulting them racially.

“I think it’s very interesting that President Francois Hollande said that those burning the French flag (in recent anti-Charlie Hebdo protests) should be punished, so he does acknowledge there are limits to freedom of expression,” he said in an interview. “I think people need to be more responsible.”

Education is the answer

Blair argued that the only long-term solution for the problem of religion being perverted into violence was education.

“This extremism is not natural, it’s taught and its learned and you have to unteach it in the school systems,” he said.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba, from South Africa, said that “as a man of faith, I cannot give up hope” and urged the assembled elites to keep the problem of violence and religion in perspective. “Of the six billion people in the world, only a handful are terrorists, so let us not be terrified by this tiny minority,” he said. “Freedom and love are key values and if we stick to that, we can transcend violence.”

The World Economic Forum in the picture-postcard Swiss ski resort of Davos brings together some 2,500 of the biggest movers and shakers in the world of finance and politics and runs until Saturday.

Poll: 24% of UK youth expect another Holocaust

Just under a quarter of British aged 18-35 believe another Holocaust might happen in their lifetime, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The poll of 505 people, commissioned by the European Jewish Congress (EJC), also found that almost 60 percent of those questioned were unaware that six million Jews died during the Holocaust.

53% acknowledge that anti-Semitism is present in the UK today, and 15% agree with a suggestion that laws should be passed requiring Jews to carry identification showing their religion.21%. favored legislation to force Muslim businesses to self-identify.

42% knew that six million Jews died, but 30% thought the figure was a million or below, and another 28% said they did not know or that the evidence was not sufficiently clear.

EJC president Moshe Kantor said that the most worrying aspect of the survey is that a repeat of the Holocaust is no longer “something outside of our wildest nightmares.”

“The fact that one in five or six British respondents would want to enact discriminatory laws against Jews and Muslims and force them to be openly identified and stigmatized, as Jews were in Nazi Germany, should shock us into action” he said, adding: “These shocking results demonstrate that now more than ever, we need actions to prevent a further descent into anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.”

A Belgian watchdog on anti-Semitism warned that the country’s public schools are becoming “Jew-free” zones because of harassment.

Joel Rubinfeld, president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, told the weekly Le Vif/L’Express earlier this month that the only Jewish student at the Emile Bockstael high school in Brussels left following harassment and threats from classmates after she posted a picture of an Israeli flag on Facebook.

The school “has become Judenfrei, there are no more Jewish students there,” Rubinfeld said, using the German-language term that the Nazis applied to locales which had been rendered “free of Jews.”

Rubinfeld also said that a growing number of parents are being forced to pull their children from public schools all over Belgium.