Menu JTA Search

Concerned About Neo-nazi Violence, Jews Rally Behind European Treaty

Concern over recent manifestations of neo-Nazi violence and anti-Semitism has prompted European Jewish leaders to rally support for the proposed treaty on a European political and economic union.

They believe a unified Europe is a potent weapon against the nationalist chauvinism that has been seen in many of the recent violent demonstrations against foreigners seeking asylum in Germany.

The organized Jewish community here has expressed support for the Maastricht accord on European union as France prepares to hold a nationwide referendum on the treaty Sept. 20.

A firm voice in favor of the union is Jean Kahn, head of CRIF, the representative body of French Jewish groups, although the community as a whole has taken a more muted stand in the vote on Europe’s future.

The European Jewish Congress, an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, has also come out strongly in favor of a yes vote.

In a carefully worded statement, the board of CRIF said that the “collapse of communism, the exacerbation of nationalistic, ethnic and religious passions make the pursuit of building Europe a necessity.”

The Maastricht treaty, it said, facilitates the transition from a community of European nations to “the political, economic and monetary union of a European whole, able to prevent conflicts and to affirm itself in the world of the next century.”

Without explicitly asking Jews to cast an affirmative vote on the Sept. 20 referendum, the CRIF statement called on voters to “ponder all the elements” at stake.

Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, which is based here, is advocating ratification of the treaty as a path toward increased democracy in Europe.

“The continuing racist attacks in Rostock and riots in two dozen other cities in Germany by extreme right-wing elements are worrying and shocking events,” he said.

He pointed out that in the same week, assailants damaged a Jewish memorial in Berlin, 200 graves were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in the French region of Alsace and a synagogue was torched in the French town of Saint-Avoid.

“An obvious contamination is spreading, stimulated by the too-little and too- late reactions of the responsible authorities, particularly in Germany,” said Cwajgenbaum.

He called on the European Parliament to denounce these “vicious” attacks. He said his organization will act in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe “to fight against this blind violence,” and urged, “as an alternative,” the ratification of the Maastricht treaty as a path toward pursuit of “peace and democracy in Europe.”

Meanwhile, French President Francois Mitterrand decried the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the Alsatian town of Herrlisheim.

In a letter to CRIF leader Kahn, Mitterrand expressed “feelings of revolt and indignation” at the incident and his “strong wish” to see the perpetrators punished.

But police investigators say the culprits will be difficult to find for lack of clues.

In Rome, the leader of the Italian Jewish community said that the upsurge of racism and anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere in Europe is a threat not only to Jews and other minorities.

“What we are witnessing is a warning to the whole of Europe,” Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

She applauded the recent stand taken by Italian authorities in banning rallies by Skinheads near Rome. She said the authorities had acted “swiftly and efficiently” to block the planned rallies by the right-wing extremists.

In a series of television and press interviews that have received widespread attention, Zevi warned of the need for vigilance.

She told national television that the Skinheads’ best ally is indifference. “Good people have to understand for whom the bell tolls. Today, the danger is for everyone,” she said.

She termed anti-Semitism “an instrument of subversion. What we are seeing is a re-emergence of the destructive and authoritarian right, of that right wing which 50 years ago produced horrors not only against us Jews, but also against the political opposition.”

Zevi dismissed as irrelevant reports that there were only 5,000 Skinheads in Germany, observing that Adolf Hitler “began with far fewer.”

And she pointed to analogies with the 1930s.

“The political chaos associated with severe economic hardships recall those years,” she said, noting that 35 percent of Poles live in conditions of misery, up to 40 percent of workers in eastern Germany are unemployed and “the bloody Yugoslav laboratory shows us to what level atrocities in ethnic conflict can descend.”

She warned against minimizing the danger from the right in today’s Europe.

“The real danger is that groups of neo-Nazis find strength and encouragement in the conviction of being interpreters and actors of ideas and behavior that others do not dare to show, but at the same time agree with.

“This is what happened in Germany in the 1930s,” she recalled. “Who rose up against Kristallnacht? Woe unto us if we remain indifferent.”

NEXT STORY