Last week, The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC) hosted a special gathering of European Jewish leaders in the Knesset, under the auspices of Speaker of the Knesset, Mr. Yuli Edelstein.
The purpose was to lay the groundwork for a Joint Road Map between global Jewish leaders and Members of Knesset, in order to promote the special bond between the State of Israel as the State of the Jewish people and the Diaspora, especially in Europe.
This gathering was a continuation of the discussion we first started in Jerusalem last September and at our international conference in Tel Aviv this April.
Participating at the Knesset gathering were leaders of the French, Hungarian, Belgian, Greek and Spanish Jewish communities, in addition to other countries, all of which are at the front of combating anti-Semitism in Europe. A number of leaders of European Jewish communities and former immigrant associations in Israel also attended and participated in the gathering.
The first immediate outcome of this event was the decision to establish a special forum at the Knesset, with MKs who are dedicated and involved in promoting and advancing this special relationship.
The IJC believes that in light of the growing burden of challenges facing the Jewish community in Europe, in particular the rising tide of anti-Semitism and maintaining Jewish identity, it is now more important than ever to promote and support Jewish solidarity between Israel and the Diaspora and put in place such a joint road map to reinforce and strengthen this special bond.
Highlighting this need is a report presented to the Government of Israel only this week, by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) titled ‘European Jewry – Signals and Noise’. In the report, the JPPI noted, with alarming concern, that 26% of Jews in Europe have suffered from anti-Semitic harassment at least once in the past year, while about 7% were physically attacked or threatened in the past five years.
For some countries, like France, these figures are even worse, with a 58% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the past 12 months, with an even more disturbing 82% rise in physical and verbal assaults committed in public.
In Hungary and Greece, seldom a day goes by without hearing about attacks against Jews or the State of Israel. Both nations have become ‘hot spots’ of European anti-Semitism, spurned on largely by the rise of neo-Nazism in both countries.
And in Belgium just this week, we heard how a Jewish woman was attacked after putting up a Mezzuzah on her home, with the assailants reportedly saying they had come “to finish what the Nazis started.”
Today, merely 68 years after the end of the Holocaust, virtually no part of Europe is free of anti-Semitism.
The time has now long passed to stop just talking about anti-Semitism and start doing something to fight it.
In addition to anti-Semitism, the Jewish communities of Europe are facing many other challenges and threats, including maintaining their connection to Israel, access to Jewish education and the attempted bans on circumcision and shechita (ritual slaughter) in many parts of Europe.
The IJC is an Israeli-based organization, devoted to reinforcing and tightening mutual relations between the Jewish community in Israel and the Diaspora, especially in Europe.
The creation of a permanent forum at the Knesset to address this issue is one example of concrete steps we are taking to combat anti-Semitism and strengthen relations between Israel and European Jewry.
In the past 12 months since our establishment, we have also signed a number of Memorandums of Understanding with leading Jewish communal organizations in the EU member states, enshrining our commitment to work with them to support their efforts in combatting anti-Semitism and continuing to thrive as Jewish communities.
We have also co-ordinated delegations of leading Israeli politicians to Europe, including Hungary, to express their solidarity with the Jewish community and to discuss the issue of anti-Semitism with senior Hungarian ministers and officials.
Together with our friends in Europe, we have also lobbied EU member states to pass, and enforce, legislation outlawing racist hate speech, use of Nazi symbols, and specifically, the denial of the Holocaust.
At the same time, recognizing the overarching importance of empowering the next generation of Israeli leaders, we have also sent delegations of ‘Israeli Young Ambassadors’, of high-school age, to London and Paris, with more to come in the near future, including a delegation to Budapest this summer. This is a critical program, allowing Jewish youths from Israel to connect with their peers from Europe.
Our deep involvement with the ‘March of the Living’ organization is another way to tie in our mutual history, together with education and the next generation of Jewish leadership.
We have also held a number of conferences bringing together global Jewish leaders and opinion makers from Israel and Europe to discuss issues of mutual importance, while also lobbying key decision makers in Israel about much needed reform in Israeli citizenship immigration and aliyah laws.
But all this is just the beginning.
Ultimately, whether we are Jews in Israel or in Europe, we are united by our shared history, our Judaism and deep-rooted connection to the State of Israel.
Just as the Jews in the Diaspora have stood up for and supported Israel, both in times of peace and in times of war, so too must we, in Israel, stand up for our fellows Jews in Europe at a time when they need us the most.
Arsen Ostrovsky is the Director of Research at The Israeli-Jewish Congress.