By Robin Sclafani, Director of CEJI, A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe
This weekend in the heart of Europe has been a stark and symbolic reminder of what is at stake for the future of social cohesion in this grand and visionary project of the European Union.
On the eve of European and Belgian elections, a gunman opened fire in the Jewish Museum of Brussels, killing 4 people. It is probably the worst incident of anti-semitic hate crime seen in Belgium since WWII.
The European Union was born in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust with the purpose of sustaining peaceful relations in a land which had been twice torn apart by war in the first half of the 20th century.
There was a general shock in the self-realisation of how much anti-semitic complicity enabled Hitler to enact his genocidal mission against the Jewish people, with Roma, homosexuals, disabled people also victims in his crusade. Remorse was translated into a sense of political and public responsibility.
Yet this weekend’s European Parliament elections saw 77 new MEPs from xenophobic parties, up 50% from five years ago. This does not bode well for the future of Europe.
The European Union is rooted in the value of respect for diversity. It seems that the foundation of Europe is currently undergoing some kind of earthquake, with this weekend’s anti-semitic attacks providing the exclamation mark on the election results.
What is most despairing, however, is that it is not a total surprise in the EU capital given the many recent indicators of a hostile climate for Jews in Belgium. Just this month on May 4th, a gathering of 500 anti-semitic politicians and public figures (including the infamous French comedian Dieudonne) took place in Brussels, called the “First European Conference of Dissidence”.
It is good to hear the Belgian politicians sharing their outrage at this Saturday’s attack. I hope they can finally hear the alarm this time for what is a wake-up call that has been snoozed too many times already.
Based in Brussels, the CEJI stands with individuals and organisations of all religions, cultures and backgrounds to promote a diverse and inclusive Europe. Through the programme, Facing Facts!, CEJI trains civil society organisations how to monitor hate crimes in order to advocate for effective prevention and intervention measures. We work to combat prejudice and discrimination and to promote social cohesion through training and education, dialogue initiatives and advocacy at a European level.
We urge our Belgian and European political representatives to implement adequate European wide security measures for vulnerable Jewish institutions and buildings. This need is more pressing than ever and it is a responsibility of the state to keep its people safe.
We campaign for comprehensive hate crime monitoring; a crucial part of the process of understanding, preventing and responding to anti-semitism and other forms of bias motivated violence.
Thirdly, we ask MEPs to make education against anti-Semitism, racism and all forms of hatred an obligatory part of European school curriculums – an absolutely essential measure to give room to the diverse European cultures and religions that the EU was founded to unite.