We Need a Common Strategy

In recent years, the European Union has grappled with waves of violent anti-Semitic attacks. This, combined with the anger some Europeans feel over Israel's policies, has turned relations with Jewish citizens into a tense conflict. In this Financial Times editorial, Romano Prodi – president of the European Commission – calls for concrete action against intolerance. This week leading public and religious figures will meet in Brussels to discuss Europe's anti-Semitism problem, in what Prodi calls an important step. But acknowledging intolerance is not enough; the EU "must harness all the instruments available to deal with it, including police and judicial action, educational and social measures," Prodi argues . To fail to protect minorities, he concludes, would betray the very ideals of diversity and peace on which the Union was founded. – YaleGlobal

We Need a Common Strategy

Romano Prodi
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Today a group of leading figures from public life and the big monotheistic faiths will meet in Brussels to discuss a sensitive and complex issue that brings unease to most and deep pain and grief to some.

The issue is anti-Semitism in Europe, a subject many would prefer to ignore. But ignoring it will not make it go away.

That is why, together with the European Jewish Congress and the Congress of European Rabbis, I have organised today's seminar. It will look at the underlying causes of anti-Semitism, focusing on the nature and values of the Europe we are building, the European Union's relations with Israel, the interfaith dialogue and the historical and cultural dimensions of European Jewry.

The very fact that this seminar is taking place will highlight the EU's commitment to openness, tolerance and dialogue. It will throw open the debate on ways of tackling anti-Semitism and put action high on the agenda, because I for one will be proposing practical follow-up.

Such follow-up must involve action at national and at EU level and both law-enforcement and educational measures, because today's seminar must not be just a talking-shop.

Among other measures, I will once more call on national governments urgently to adopt the Commission's proposal on combating racism and xenophobia that has been on the Council's table for almost three years.

I have always believed in dialogue as a way of resolving problems. So when I learnt that 59 per cent of Europeans saw Israel as a threat to peace, I felt duty bound to look into the reasons and tackle the issue. And while I like to think it reflects a deep concern among the majority of Europeans at the lack of progress in the peace process and disheartenment at the horrifying spiral of violence, I am also aware that, among some, it translates into a form of anti-Semitism.

The way a society treats its minorities is a gauge of its level of civilisation. And in Europe the Jews are not just another minority, because historically and culturally Europe's Jews have been Europeans for at least two millennia. They are the minority in Europe and have existed throughout since the Middle Ages. The persecution endured by the Jews, especially the unique horror of the Holocaust, has been so dreadful and long-lasting that it sets their ordeals apart on the scale of human suffering and puts anti-Semitism in a class of its own.

The Holocaust and terrible loss of life in the second world war played a big role in the establishment of the EU. The European idea stems from the belief that we have to build a Europe of tolerance and respect for human rights, where differences are perceived as positive: a Europe different from the past and therefore a continent that must not forget its past. That is why my first action on becoming president of the European Commission was to visit Auschwitz.

Today's Europe is indeed a different Europe and our Union has achieved many extraordinary things. It has rendered war obsolete as a way of settling differences between member countries and it has reconciled age-old enemies. Most of us use our single currency and we all enjoy the advantages of the single market, just as we all benefit from the peace and prosperity integration has brought. Now enlargement is healing the split that divided the continent for half a century and Europe is being united peacefully for the first time. Most significantly, we share the same basic values. That is why racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated in the Europe we are building: this Union of diversity, where each national, ethnic, religious and cultural component has equal value.

Diversity is one of Europe's assets and can act to vaccinate us against any resurgence of anti-Semitism or new forms of prejudice. I also believe that we must never forget the past if we want to make sure its horrors are never repeated.

The conflict in the Middle East can also feed a form of anti- Semitism. In Europe, this conflict may fuel the social frustrations of new minorities established through immigration in many EU member countries. Such frustrations imported into Europe do sometimes translate into anti- Semitic acts, in some countries more than in others, and they need to be dealt with severely.

This sort of anti-Semitism presents us with a new and difficult challenge. We need to harness all the instruments available to deal with it, including police and judicial action, educational and social measures.

We must also do all we can to promote peace, for peace is the basic reason the Union was established. That includes peace between the member countries and peace between the peoples living within the Union. And, as we know, peace without security is meaningless. This is felt deeply by all minorities, including our Jewish minority, and they have a right to our special concern and attention. That is why I set much store by today's seminar and earnestly hope this message will be heard loud and clear.

The writer is president of the European Commission.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. 2004

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