European Jewish Congress Against Racism And Xenophobia

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EU Leaders Host EJC Symposium in Brussels

BRUSSELS, March 30, 2009. Today the Belgian capital is hosting a one-day international symposium called Building Together the Future of Europe. The event is organized by the European Jewish Congress under the patronage of President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pottering, the European Commission, and the Czech Presidency of the EU.

Politicians, secular leaders and clergy are denying the Holocaust and its scope in public speeches. Attempts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice or condemn them are useless. There have been numerous attacks against national and religious minorities, pogroms, arson attacks on community and religious centres, desecration of temples and cemeteries. These are not the mere details of European history or shadows from its past. These are the horrific reality of today and a direct threat to the future stability of Europe. These issues are among the priorities on the agenda of Building Together the Future of Europe, a symposium hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels.

The symposium is a unique forum for European politicians, European MEPs, academics, sociologists and political scientists, journalists, NGOs, ethnic community leaders and representatives of various faiths to work on a joint approach to address these issues. According to Jacques Barrot, Vice President of the European Commission, “racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism have become the main curses of the modern society. The European Union must lead the fight against this evil. We must be united and act united. The European Commission will take real actions, but all European governments must act as well.”

The UN estimates that every ninth citizen in developed European democracies is an immigrant. Symposium delegates noted that the sharp increase in the number of immigrants in Europe over the last decades has triggered inter-ethnic and inter-faith tension, which grows even worse amid the global economic crisis. However, the most “articulated” and widespread form of racial hatred – anti-Semitism – has not disappeared. A number of recognized European surveys have proven that escalating anti-Semitism is not directly linked to recent events in Gaza or Israel; its major driver is the global economic crisis, for which many Europeans feel Jews are to blame.

“Leading European countries, including France, Belgium and the UK, have witnessed as many attacks this January as in all of 2008. This is a very dangerous trend,” says Viatcheslav Kantor, who presides over the European and the Russian Jewish Congresses. He urged European nations building the common future to capitalize on their history and learn from their past mistakes before such mistakes are repeated, this time with far more tremendous and horrible consequences. The EJC president noted that “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. The history teaches us: what starts with the Jews never ends with them.”. Kantor went on to say that the faltering economy and declining living standards prompt people to find a scapegoat. Not only Jews are in danger. Muslims, Roma, and Eastern Europeans living in Western Europe become a target of discrimination and attacks.

Delegates reported that another factor in the aggravating tension in Europe is the threat of “conflict import,” including Islamic extremism spread by Iranian leadership through the terrorist networks Hezbollah and Hamas. These actions and their implications are a threat to European civilization.

Many participants denounced the World Conference against Racism to be held in April, Durban II. The concern is that Durban II will give pro-Iranian forces a platform for racist and anti-Semitic statements, as was the case in 2001 at the first conference. Kantor urged EU countries not to be misled and to boycott Durban II.

Former President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, who chairs the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, believes that the united Europe does not pay enough attention to immigrant issues and underestimates the threat of an uncontrolled increase in legal and illegal immigration. According to Kwasniewski, over the past decade the number of immigrant has increased by 60 million people. Over the same period, 40 million people immigrated to the U.S alone.

Kwasniewski is convinced that initiatives promoting and strengthening tolerance will allow the situation in Europe to stabilise and prevent ethnic or religious conflicts. “Tolerance is one of the most important features for the common Europe,” the former president concluded.

All participants of the symposium expressed their conviction that this event will be a call to act for the European political elite, as well as for the global community. Participants agreed that Europe needs updated legislation and more effective executive actions to bring the situation back to normal. Otherwise the continent may spin out of control and become a platform for violent accidents in the common Europe, threatening its very existence.