Jewish life won’t survive in Europe unless security improves, EJC leader says

(JTA) – European Jewish communities will not survive unless their security situations improve, the vice president of the European Jewish Congress has said during a conference on the subject in Berlin.

“Millions are diverted annually from cultural activities that sustain community life to address elevated risks,” Ariel Muzicant of Austria added during the conference Thursday, which was hosted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — an intergovernmental agency with 57 member states known by the acronym OSCE.

Muzicant told JTA that several Jewish community leaders hoped to raise the awareness of European governments during the OSCE event to “three major efforts: The need for financing by governments for security expense; the need for cross-European legislation against incitement, and better cooperation between authorities and Jewish communities.”

Rabbi Andrew Baker, personal representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on combating anti-Semitism, revealed that 22 percent of 6,000 European Jews who participated in an E.U. survey last year said they skipped Jewish community events to avoid anti-Semitic incidents. “It’s a horrible picture,” Baker said of the still-unpublished results of the nine-country survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

Since 2000, Western European Jewish communities have seen a substantial escalation in the number and level of attacks, often by Muslim extremists and in correlation with events concerning Israel. In 2012, the French Jewish community documented a 58-percent increase in attacks from the previous year. In one of them, a Jihadist killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

While these developments have meant greater expenditure by Jewish communities on security, only in some countries did governments step up to shoulder additional costs, with detrimental consequences for Jewish life in Europe, Baker said.

He commended France, Britain and Germany for allocating considerable sums over the past year toward Jewish security. Baker said France has spent $20 million following the Toulouse killings.

“But in Belgium, the community’s security requirements are comparable to those of the U.S. Embassy,” he said, noting that the costs fall on the Jewish community of 40,000. The financial burden is especially heavy for small communities in Scandinavia, he said.

Also attending the conference on “Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities in the OSCE region: Challenges and Good Practices,” was German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich. “His attendance demonstrates the seriousness of some European governments,” said Arie Zuckerman, chair of the EJC committee of security and crisis management.

Representing American Jewish communities was Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, or SCN, the homeland security initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Zuckerman said the Berlin event was “the next step” after a European Jewish Congress conference on Security in Brussels last year, which yielded a resolution to approach E.U. governments and agencies for funding security costs.

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