Serge Cwajgenbaum, Secretary General of the European Jewish Congress
7 February 2009
How do you assess the level of anti-Semitism in Europe?
The latest recent trends in anti-Semitism in Europe show that anti-Semitic incidents are increasing and are becoming more violent. This can include anything from physical attacks on individuals to arson attacks on Jewish places of worship. These types of incidents have unfortunately become more and more frequent. Another factor to take into account is the situation in the Middle East , notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the situation flares up, as it has for example during the recent war in Gaza , the levels of anti-Semitism increase enormously. In the first weeks of 2009 we've witnessed, in some Western European countries like France , Belgium and the UK , almost half the total number of incidents that we normally identify in a whole year.
How would you assess the level of respect for religious tolerance and cultural diversity in Europe?
I would say that religious tolerance and cultural diversity are generally accepted in Europe . In the case of religious tolerance, we know that the three major monotheistic faiths live and co-exist side by side. However, public opinion rejects religious extremism and the instrumentalisation of religion with a political intention.
How have cultural organisations and political groups responded to the challenges posed by anti-Semitism in Europe?
Anti-Semitism is historically the oldest form of racism and intolerance towards an identifiable group of people. Legislation of course exists to combat this phenomenon but it is sometimes insufficiently implemented and in some cases bypassed completely. We believe that an adequate tool for facing the challenges that anti-Semitism poses is education, a political pedagogy based on the teaching of history.
The European Jewish Congress has a long history of combating anti-Semitism on the European level, cooperating with EU institutions, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other human rights bodies.
In your view, what specific measures need to be taken at the national level to combat anti-Semitism?
One of the most important measures to be taken is the establishment of national monitoring centers and monitoring structures that are capable of identifying anti-Semitic incidents and report them to the police and judicial authorities. Ideally, these monitoring centers would also have some kind of legal capacity, helping the victim to take the case to court and make that the rule of law is applied.
If these monitoring centers already exist in some EU states, they should be reinforced and made known to the general public. One of the biggest problems that we have is showing that anti-Semitism, like racism, xenophobia and related intolerances, is something that affects all citizens; it doesn't only concern Jewish communities. In combating racism and anti-Semitism, one fights for mutual respect and for the good spirit of co-existence.
What contribution does your organisation make to the debate over inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue at the European level?
Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is one of the most important aspects of the work that the European Jewish Congress does. We have been extremely active in setting up forums for inter-religious dialogue and understanding, between Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders in Europe . We permanently co-organize for example a Judeo-Catholic conference in Paris that sets the agenda for future cooperation.
What role can the media play in promoting diversity and religious tolerance in Europe?
The role of the media is crucial, in particular TV networks and the internet. Media can be a tool for promoting tolerance and diversity as it can very easily be used directly or indirectly to amplify hate, violence and intolerance.
In regards to promoting these elements, the media can do two things: relay diversity and religious tolerance in its treatment of information to the general public and also representing diversity and religious and ethnic minorities in terms of access to the media industry.
How can the Council of Europe's 'Speak Out Against Discrimination' campaign help in the fight against anti-Semitism in Europe?
We believe that the campaign will have a strong effect on the general public and on the media. In regards to the general public, it will send a clear message: that discrimination is happening around all of us and that we must actively engage to eradicate it. As for the media, it will help convey a message of responsibility, in other words that journalists need to be objective and impartial when it comes to sensitive issues and that they need to be aware of the effect of what they report, especially in terms of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and related intolerances.
Looking to the future, what are the prospects for improved community relations in Europe?
I would like to end on a more positive note: we must all remember, especially the younger generations, that this is the first time in 2000 years that the European continent has lived in peace, ever since the common European project began around 60 years ago. Only 20 years ago there was still a Berlin Wall and Communist regimes in Europe . We need to recognize that much has been done to better community relations and mutual respect in Europe . We must use these advancements as a platform for a brighter future.
Find out more
Focus on Antisemitism
Website of the European Jewish Congress