One of Europe’s most senior Jewish leaders has said the question facing Europe is to what extent the continent’s Muslim community will integrate.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) and Chief Rabbi of Moscow, said the continent was facing a “spirit of religious intolerance” to minorities.
“It is caused by an unholy mixture of anti-immigrant feelings, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and militant secularism,” he said. “The growing number of non-Christian immigrants is changing the face of Europe”.
In London to meet Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Minister for Faith and Communities Baroness Warsi, Goldschmidt said immigration and the financial crisis had contributed to the rise of the far-right.
“Many old Europeans want to fight this tide by going to the far-right, and we see a rise in Hungary, Greece, to some extent France and Holland,” he said.
“I understand all those parties are going to unite in order to fight the European elections together, which is a concern.”
His comments follow the recent visit to London of Gabor Vona, leader of Hungary’s ultra-nationalist Jobbik party, which Goldschmidt described as “openly anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi and pro-Arab”.
The visit comes at a time of increased pressure on Jewish religious practices from the continent, in particular from Scandinavian countries, with the focus on shechita (a means of slaughter) and brit milah (male circumcision).
“We are hearing Scandinavian voices against circumcision because they have large and increasing Muslim populations and weak Jewish communities,” said Goldschmidt, speaking during his visit to Sinai Jewish Primary School.
“If you look at these attempts to curtail religious freedoms, when laws are directed against only Muslims, they are passed, but when they affect both Jews and Muslims, the laws never pass,” he said.
“This shows the weakness of the first-generation Muslim communities, which is a result of them not being integrated in Europe. But we’re going to live in a Europe where Muslims will play a major part.
“The question is to what extent Muslim community will integrate in Europe, to what extent they will be Europeans and to what extent Europe will become part of the Middle East. I think it will depend on how old Europeans behave.”