American Jewish organizations have pledged greater support for European Jewish communities that are facing a rising tide of Muslim hostility and anti-Israeli media bias.
They also declared themselves “surprised and pleased” by the high level of behind-the-scenes support they encountered during meetings with European government leaders for firm American-led policies against terrorists and the states that support them.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations ended meetings Tuesday night with more than 100 Jewish leaders from 23 European countries. The Jewish leaders also held high-level political talks with European officials.
“Especially after Sept. 11, many European Jewish communities feel very isolated and intimidated,” said Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the umbrella group of 52 organizations.
“We need to make them feel they are not alone in their foxhole.”
Though no formal structure was envisaged, he said his organization had discussed “creating a mechanism to work much closer with the European Jews” and to use “our resources and information and mutual support.”
The American Jewish leaders are increasingly seen by their European counterparts as being far ahead in their ability to lobby and motivate governments, educate public opinion and combat media bias, Zuckeman said.
“We can shine the light of public attention on issues, we know how to mobilize,” he said.
The Americans intend to help the Europeans establish a strong lobbying capacity in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, said Malcolm Hoenlein, the Conference’s executive vice chairman.
But he said the group would be “sensitive not to tread on toes. We have no imperialistic aims, and we will not speak in the name of Europeans; we will do nothing without local clearance.”
He said one priority would be to coordinate with European Jewish organizations a strategy to resist the onslaught against Israel expected at two upcoming U.N. conferences, one on human Rights next month and one on the environment, slated for July.
“We were all taken aback by the way the Durban conference last year was turned into a racist conference targeting Israel and became blatantly anti-Semitic,” said Hoenlein, referring to last summer’s U.N. Conference against Racism and Xenophobia.
He said anti-Semites, especially those encouraged by Arab states, were “given legitimacy” by these onslaughts, which he said laid the groundwork for anti-Jewish political and physical attacks in Europe and also affected the policies of European governments.
“We need to put in place mechanisms to anticipate the problems better, and to deal with moderate
Muslims,” Zuckerman said.
The Americans and Europeans agreed that strengthening the link between the communities had become more important since the Sept. 11 attacks against America.
The two communities needed to share tactics on handling the fallout from the American-led war on terror, he said.
“We can contribute a lot to the European Jews, but they can teach us a great deal about strengthening security for Jewish communities,” Hoenlein said.
He said that because the threat from anti-Semites, Muslim extremists and anti-Israeli activists has existed in Europe far longer and more intensely than in the United States, the European communities had developed advanced systems for protecting Jews and Jewish institutions from attack.
“In this respect, we are way behind,” said Hoenlein.
American delegates said they were impressed, for instance, by the Community Security Organization that looks after the safety of British Jews.
“The heightened measures they take here were brought home to us when the security guys escorted us from one conference venue to another and warned us not to congregate too long in one place to avoid being a large target,” said one delegate.
In listening to leaders from the European nations, a new trend emerged — that most Eastern European Jewish communities feel safer than before and found more support from previously unhelpful governments.
This was in stark contrast to the heightened anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiment pervading much of Western Europe.
France, which hosts Western Europe’s largest Jewish community, has since last September’s events been facing “increasing acts of violence against schools, synagogues and against rabbis in the streets,” reported Roger Cukierman, president of France’s umbrella group for secular Jews in France, CRIF.
Especially in poorer areas where Muslims and Jews live in close proximity, he said Arabs had been “causing fear, through insults and sometimes even petrol bombs.”
Cukierman said that even beyond the anti-Semitism found among recent Muslim immigrants and the extreme right wing, each comprising some 10 percent of the population, France had a very volatile electorate with “fluctuating ideas.”
He said the French people were being subjected to an unprecedented wave of anti-Israeli media propaganda. This could create anti-Jewish sentiment among “normal” people, he said.
A statue of the 19th-century French Jewish soldier, Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly imprisoned for disclosing secrets to the enemy and then exonerated, was recently sprayed with the slogan: “Dirty Traitor!”
However, Cukierman said French Jews maintained good relations with and access to the government, except for what he called the traditionally anti-Israel Foreign Ministry.
And while France’s Protestant churches had become virulently anti-Israeli, the Catholics were more moderate, he said.
Both French and British community leaders reported that since Sept. 11, their relations with Muslim representatives had come to an abrupt halt.
Before then, French Jews had been helping the mainly Algerian recent immigrants to feel more integrated, Cukierman said.
And the British delegates spoke of a temporary end to work with Muslim communities, mainly from south Asia, over common goals such as protecting rights to state-supported religious schools, ritual slaughter of animals to meet both Jewish and Muslim dietary restrictions, and involvement in the political process — Jews are strongly represented in Parliament and government while Muslims are largely absent.
Lord Greville Janner, a veteran Labor Party politician and vice chairman of the World Jewish Congress, has been on two trips to Israel and the Gulf Arab states with a fellow-member of the House of Lords, who is Muslim.
“Such a trip now, after Sept. 11, would be impossible, and that is sad but reflects the new tensions,” Lord Janner told the JTA after he had conducted the American group through the ancient Houses of Parliament buildings.
Janner, along with leading British Jewish lawyer Anthony Julius, told the group that Britain had virulently anti-Israeli newspapers — and that the state-owned British Broadcasting Corporation’s attacks on Israel were given succor by some Jewish left-wing authors and playwrights, including Harold Pinter.
Another strong British Jewish activist, Lord George Weidenfeld, a book publisher, said he had noted in his extensive travels across Europe that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had become “the most demonized leader in the world,” and that Israel and Jewish communities in Europe had severely failed in the dissemination of hasbarah, or information.
However he said that the anti-Jewish threats in Europe would rapidly decline should America prevail — as it had done so far — in its war against terror.
He told the Americans and Europeans: “Nothing succeeds like success.”