Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4) called anti-Semitism in modern-day Europe “unparalleled since the dark, days of the Second World War” during a House panel on Feb. 27.
Smith convened 10 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders in his role as chairman of the House’s global human rights subcommittee.
Seeking an ecumenical tone, the panel was titled “Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths.” Smith also cited anti-Semitism in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Smith's office supplied a transcript of the panel and a video.
“In some nations it has actually gotten worse,” Smith said as he called the panel to order, citing attacks on synagogues, Jewish cultural sites, cemeteries, and individuals. “It is an ugly reality that won’t go away by ignoring it or wishing it away.”
According to Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs, “France may stand out with its significant number of violent acts, and with the largest Jewish community in Europe it offers the largest number of potential targets. But the French Jewish community is not alone with the need to address an increasing security threat.”
Baker cited Hungary, Greece, Austria, and Ukraine as countries where “the growth of right wing, populist parties…is a new cause for alarm.
“The severe economic problems and inability of mainstream political parties to cope with them have opened a door to extremist views,” he testified.
Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, made a distinction between government and private anti-Semitism.
“As of 1992 and Ukraine's independence, government anti -Semitism has thank God all but disappeared,” he said. But, he added, Jews in his country are still subjected to violence and vandalism, as well as hate speech and anti-Semitic writings.
“I hope that Ukraine continues its development into a true Western democratic society, where all citizens will continue to feel safe and protected,” he said.
Rabbi David Meyer, professor of rabbinic literature and contemporary Jewish thought at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said he first encountered anti-Semitism in 1980 at his bar mitzva in Paris, when a bomb went off outside the Union Libérale Israélite de France synagogue.
“Towards the end of the service, a bomb suddenly exploded just outside the doors; when the panic and confusion subsided, four people had lost their lives – one a woman entering the synagogue and three others who were passing by,” he recalled. “At almost 13, prior to this day, I could never have been able to imagine that as a Jew I could be targeted in such a way.”
Meyer said his own experiences “pale in comparison to the violence that has been inflicted to others,” notably “the sheer horror that was inflicted on a small Jewish school, in March of 2012 in Toulouse, where three children and three adults were killed by an Islamic radical.
“What is new is that after a period of roughly 50 years following the Second World War and the Holocaust, during which anti-Semitism — it was believed and hoped – had ceased, we see and witness again renewed expression and acts of Jewish hatred in the public domain,” Mayer said.
Willy Silberstein, chair of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism, cited attacks by Muslim immigrants on Jews in the city of Malmo.
However, “a large portion of the Muslim immigrants in Sweden are not anti-Semitic,” he added, saying young Muslims have formed to combat anti-Jewish sentiment in their community.
Silberstein also suggested the United States make anti-Semitism and hate crime part of its bilateral agenda with European countries, and “equip U.S. diplomats with the understanding and tools to recognize anti-Semitism and the contemporary forms it takes.”
Andrew Srulevitch, director of European affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, suggested European governments can help eradicate anti-Semitism with hate crimes laws and Holocaust remembrance and education programs.
Zudhi Jasser, the Arizona-based president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, is an outspoken opponent of Muslim fundamentalism.
“Anti-Semitism should not be viewed as just another radical symptom that arises from the supremacist mentality of Islamism,” he told the subcommittee. “It is far more than that. If we can develop the understanding and national conviction to directly confront the anti-Semitism of global Islamist movements, we will therein hold the key to unraveling the very fabric and platform through which Islamist leaders spread their ideas.”
Smith, a Roman Catholic, launched a successful effort, beginning in 2002, to place anti-Semitism on the agenda of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Other speakers included Tamás Fellegi, a former minister of national development for Hungary; John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America; Elisa Massimino, president and chief executive officer of Human Rights First; author Eric Metaxas; and Katrina Lantos Swett, chair, U.S. of the Commission on International Religious Freedom.