European rabbis urge religious tolerance in Mideast


(JTA) — Senior European rabbis urged the European Union to ensure that the burgeoning democratic movements sweeping across the Arab world also guarantee religious freedom in the region.

During a meeting Monday at the European Commission in Brussels, the four-member Conference of European Rabbis delegation stressed the importance of reversing decades of dictatorship and human rights abuses in some Middle Eastern countries.

“The quest for freedom, the most basic human right, is all-encompassing because, without it, human beings cannot enjoy all the blessings which life can give which brings out the presence of God in every person,” said Conference of European Rabbis Chairman Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, also the chief rabbi of Moscow.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders attended the meeting, which was hosted by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. It was the seventh such meeting hosted by Barroso since 2005.

Barroso said after the meeting that Europe’s growing challenges can be solved only with the active participation of the continent’s religious communities.

"Our task and ambition is to promote democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights and social justice not only in Europe but also in our neighborhood," he said. "Today’s discussion confirmed our common commitment to the promotion of democratic rights and liberties, including freedom of religion and of belief.”

Prior to the meeting, the rabbis joined with several European Muslim leaders to issue a joint statement condemning "increasing manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in countries across Europe."

“We must never allow anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia or racism to become respectable in today’s Europe," their declaration read. "In that regard, we call upon all political leaders not to pander to these groups by echoing their rhetoric."

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