December 1, Brussels. Unique conference initiated by European Jewish Union gathered together Jewish lawyers and legal experts from across the continent. After long debates a historically important decision was made - to establish pan-European legal task force to combat anti-Semitism.
Around 100 people from 16 countries gathered in the capital of Europe to discuss means to confront anti-Semitism and its new forms, anti-Zionism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel, particularly in some European countries where the issue of Jew-hatred appears to be more acute and where legal weapons do not yet exist.
The two-day conference was organized by the European Jewish Union (EJU), an organization created earlier this year to promote Jewish life in Europe.
The task force was established "in light of the increasing and constant growth of anti-Semitism in the whole of Europe and the campaign to delegitimize Israel using traditional and new forms as well as legal means," a resolution said. It based on the model of the US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL), founded in 1913. The New York-placed ADL is a leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.
The task force, made up of five lawyers from France, Germany and the UK will draw on legal experts from different countries who will coordinate the sharing of information, tactics, and strategies for combating anti-Semitism.
While participants agree that legal means are an important part of the battle against anti-Semitism, several speakers stressed however that this was not enough.
"Laws will not eliminate anti-Semitism. We need education and to work with coalition partners, to develop school curricula that teach why anti-Semitism is wrong. But we also need to call on our political, civil and religious leaders to speak out forcefully against anti-Semitism," said Deborah Lauter, National Civil Rights Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"We will never eradicate anti-Semitism if we cannot reach people’s hearts and minds. Taking anti-Semites to court is not by itself going to solve the problem," Lauter said.
"Anti-Semitism has to be fought at all levels, political, education and within religions," said international lawyer and author Samuel Pisar, a Holocaust survivor, who expressed fears for renewed anti-Jewish hatred in the framework of the current economic crisis.
For him, the fact that Jewish schools, synagogues and Jewish public events need protection in Europe is also a result of an anti-Semitic climate.
Participants welcomed the recent launch by EJU of a Jewish television, Jewish News One. "This channel which now also available live on Internet, has the potential to become an important tool to bring "another voice" on the reality of facts, said EJU CEO Tomer Orni.
Respond to the demonization of Israel
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, who addressed the conference, said one should really begin "to stand up and use the tools that are used against us" in order to defend the state of Israel and the Jewish people.
"The attacks that demonize and delegitimize Israel are done nearly on a daily basis and it is very hard to really pinpoint them but it is important to do that and respond to each and every issue," Prosor, one of Israel’s most talented spokesperson, told EJP.
He also stressed the huge role of the media. "Today the media conveys and portrays what countries are and what they represent and Israel has been portrayed in the past from David into Goliath and not really putting through the diversity of the Israeli society as a democracy and what makes Israel so unique as a melting pot of Jews and citizens coming from all over the world."
Danger of 'generalizations' about anti-Semitism in Europe
US Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, whose father was a Holocausty survivor, presented a different view on anti-Semitism.
"The temptation always exists at conferences discussing perceived biases, prejudices, discrimination and even hatred, to cite a couple of anecdotal instances of violence or hatred, sound an alarm, rally a response, take the applause and sit down," he remarked.
He issues, he said, are "too complex” and "too much in flux to simply take the easy path." "Generalizations about anti-Semitism in Europe are dangerous, always at risk of oversimplifying and of lumping together diverse phenomena," he added.
He said "there is and has long been some amount of anti-Semitism, of hatred and violence against Jews, from a small sector of the population who hate others who may be different or perceived to be different, largely for the sake of hating." "Those anti-Semites are people who hate not only Jews, but Muslims, gays, gypsies, and likely any who can be described as minorities or different. That hatred is of course pernicious and it must be combated."
He added, "I have not personally seen much of that hatred in Europe and I do not have any basis to think it is growing in any sense. But of course, we can never take our eye off of it, and you particularly as lawyers can help with that process."
"What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews," "It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem."
He said that during his visits to different places in Belgium, the "longest and loudest ovation" he has ever received came from the high school with one of the largest percentages of Arab descent.
"These kids were not anti-Semitic as I have ever thought of the term," the ambassador said.
Belgian Jews are scared for their children
But the lawyers conference coincided with the publication of a 7-page article by Belgian weekly magazine Le Vif L’Express titled: "Why are the Jews in Belgium scared?". It mentions the growing number of anti-Semitic aggressions, the Moslim resentment and the radicalization of anti-Zionism in this country.
Two weeks ago, a 13-year-old young girl was beaten in Brussels by five students of Moroccan origin because she was Jewish. She was told: "Dirty Jew, return to your country." She since has decided to change school as did a 16-year-old girl at the Brussels European School following repeated harassment on Israel by other students.
"The European Jewish Union is determined to confront anti-Semitism and anti-Semites in Europe using legal and other means," Tomer Orni said.
"The establishment of a task force will eventually enable us to target anti-Semites and to create deterrence."
“We want people to understand why they should not be involved whatsoever in any kind of anti-Semitism," the EJU leader said.
At the end of the conference, a delegation from the European Jewish Union led by Tomer Orni met at the Berlaymont with European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, who just returned from a EU-US summit meeting in Washington with President Barack Obama. The Commissioner was informed about the EJU activities.