Testifying at the U.S. House subcommittee hearing I described how, even after 2000 years, Europe has never really accepted the place either of individual Jews or of Judaism as a religion in its midst, leading to a deeply rooted tolerance for acts of violence against the Jewish community.
Last week I testified at the House Foreign Affairs and Human Rights subcommittee, which was holding a hearing on European anti-Semitism. I arrived in Washington with mixed feelings. If I was certainly honoured to bring my contribution to a congressional hearing, I quickly felt the burden of responsibility on my shoulders.
Anti-Semitism is certainly not a minor issue in Europe today. But I was also slightly worried, as I knew I did not want to be the voice that would simply run the various cliches about the unspeakable dangers of living as a Jew in Europe, or even about the uncompromising hate of Jews of some of Europe's Muslims citizens. As a rabbi based in Brussels, at the heart of Europe, having served Jewish communities in both the United Kingdom and Belgium, and currently a professor of Rabbinic Literature in Rome as well as in Belgium, I felt I had the necessary background and experience to bring a more nuanced view on this issue. But would my subtle remarks be heard?
Over the years, my encounters with anti-Semitism have been many and varied. From witnessing first hand, at the age of thirteen, a deadly terrorist attack against my synagogue in Paris, in which four people perished, to subtler and more recent forms of Jewish hatred, often dressed in a cloak of respectability. My dual citizenship and my patriotism for both France and Israel has been questioned and denounced. I have been told to “return to my country” during one particularly heated lecture during a military session in the French Senate. In a similar vein, a high official in England also kindly reminded me several years ago during, ironically, a meeting on interfaith dialogue, that I should not forget that my place was as a “tolerated minority.” In both of these instances, I was clearly the outsider and not an equal.
Yet, my experiences of anti-Semitism pale in comparison to the renewed forms of violence against the Jewish community in Europe. How not to think of the sheer horror and panic that was inflicted on a small Jewish school in Toulouse in March 2012? There, a radical young French Muslim killed, in cold blood, three children aged 3, 6 and 8 as well as a rabbi, who was both a father and teacher at the school. As a father, how can I not look at my two daughters without a mix of fear and apprehension about what Jewish life in Europe will be for them?
I am of course well aware that many leaders in Europe are committed to fighting this renewal of anti-Semitic violence. Their words, in this respect, have been right; their speeches moving. But anti-Semitism remains on the rise. So why are the political words and the policies put in place not enough? The uncomfortable answer is that there is a level of tolerance to acts of violence against the Jewish community that is deeply rooted in the European mentality and which is, in my view, more worrisome in the long run than even the radical Islamist brand of “Jew-hatred.” Europe has never really accepted the place of not only Jews as individuals, but also of Judaism as a religion in its midst.read more (premium)