Former U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism for The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA)
Mr. Chairman and Members of this esteemed Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the state of anti-Semitism in the world today. As a matter of background, I served in the United States Department of State as the first U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, serving from 2006-2009. During that time, I traveled around the world to twenty-eight countries, including many countries with significant Muslim populations, some of whom espoused a mindset and collection of historical and political biases which were very disturbing. Specifically to this point, I will address the subject of relations between Jewish communities and ethnic and Muslim minorities in Europe and how those relations have impacted the fate of Jewish communities on that continent. Following my remarks, I will offer a few recommendations.
In my travels, I found that in many of these countries with either large Muslim populations or in Muslim countries themselves, the relationship between the two communities is tense. On the one hand, Muslim community leaders tell me that they respect the role Jews have made for themselves, admiring the access Jewish leaders have and the influence and relative wealth the community has come to accumulate. On the other hand, there is jealousy. “I want to catch up with Jewish groups organizationally,” one Muslim leader told me in Southern France. This leader spoke to me about “a competition of memories” with Jews, pointedly expressing a problem.
His concerns centered on Muslims’ perception of their comparative disadvantage in Europe vis-à-vis the Jews. He told me about real societal discrimination against Muslims in employment, religious observance, and in general daily life, not at all the responsibility of the Jewish community. Yet, despite their perception of their status, they offer up the support Jews in Southern France exhibit toward Israel as the real reason for their present situation. He expressed complaints that Jews came as “colonialists” with other Europeans to North Africa, received French citizenship and then moved to France. Muslims on the other hand lived in French-speaking North Africa and also immigrated to France but were denied the same level of acceptance. These same Jews, I was told, now unfairly “appropriated” the history of the Holocaust, intimating that it was not their history to claim. Now “we Algerians suffer from it” I was told.
Many Muslims believe their “suffering” locks Muslim communities and individuals in a second-class position. Yet, this view according to the director of one Dutch NGO in Amsterdam is not necessarily the correct one. According to him, the community itself is not without blame in this regard. Young Muslims’ own cultural and religious reluctance to integrate does not help matters. Fewer prospects for employment are tied to their reluctance to seek proper schooling or even higher levels of education.
I have been told of this problem in Germany as well. It was explained with great detail to me the effects on Muslim teenagers who don’t stay in school. Dropping out of school, places them at a clear disadvantage economically and socially. This fact has been reinforced by a study published by the Open Society Institute EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program that found in 2007 that three times as many foreign-born German children stop at secondary school failing to move on. Furthermore, in 1998, according to the report, about one-third of foreigners aged 20-29 remained without a professional qualification, compared to only 8% of Germans of the same age group. It has not gotten much better a decade or so later. Think though of the effects now on that age group, self-deprived of an education.
In Dutch schools, as the Dutch NGO director and former Dutch parliamentarian Aayan Hirsi Ali explained to me, Muslim school children are disruptive in class and teachers are reluctant to counter their obstreperous practices. Worse, according to the Open Society study of 2007 for the Netherlands, less than 10% of the Turks and Moroccans students have finished higher education or university education there. As second generation Muslims, these youth are caught in a netherworld. They don’t feel fully European, and with inadequate Arabic language fluency, they don’t feel fully “Arab.” Add a lack of education to this mix of circumstances and the sense of despair is only worse. These concerns have been expressed to me across Europe.
Confused European Muslim youth go “back home” to the countries of their parents and grandparents yearning to acquire that identity but are rejected there as not wholly Moroccan, Algerian or Turkish. Rejected in both “homes” they return to Europe confused, looking for meaning and of course someone to blame, and that is how they fall prey to charismatic Imams, imported from abroad, usually from Turkey, Iran, or Pakistan into Mosques financed from abroad and under whose influence they fall.
This need to blame as well as the learned hatred is passed on to younger Muslim kids who harass Jews, for example, in West Amsterdam, in the banlieu near Paris and other European cities. I have talked with a number of people in Amsterdam, rabbis, Jewish teenagers, and even elected officials who told me stories of young Muslims who yell “kill the Jews” and routinely throw rocks at Jews leaving synagogues or those daring to walk through Muslim neighborhoods. As one Jewish leader in Europe told me, “Jews are the only ones who go to synagogue or school under police protection.” This has become normal existence for Jews in Europe and I’ve seen it first-hand.
Due to this ongoing pattern of Muslim harassment of Jews in Europe, it has come to the point that an intentional segregation is taking place. Jewish families are moving out of mixed Muslim-Jewish neighborhoods. Because of the frequency of anti-Jewish harassment, it is simply no longer worth living in these areas.
Moreover, according to Catholic Church officials and Jewish leaders in France, in 2007, nearly 60% of Jewish students attended private schools in France (Jewish or even Catholic), with their parents fearing their security in the public schools. As in the Netherlands, teachers are unable to guarantee the safety of Jewish students.
I was told stories of ongoing efforts at interfaith work in the banlieu outside of Paris talking with Muslims that produced frightening results. I was told of declarations from Muslims warning those attempting this work, that Jews were a “damned and rejected people,” and that one Muslim man declared “Every day I pray for you to become a Muslim so I wouldn’t be obligated to kill you.”
It must be clear that the discrimination Muslims face is not a myth, yet Muslim communities suggest a greater role for the problem and weave it into the story of their victimhood taking on strong notes of succeeding the Jews as the newest victims of discrimination all the while blaming them for their ills. “In broader terms,” I was told, “Arabs are Semites and therefore, ‘Islamaphobia’ is a kind of anti-Semitism.” This sentiment was echoed to me by another source who casually suggested that Islamaphobia in Europe is “ten times” that of anti-Semitism.” I heard this comparison from Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians, Lebanese, and others around the world. Yet, just as Muslims accuse Jews of appropriating a history that they claim is not theirs, so too are they appropriating one. We need to be clear about this point; anti-Semitism means discrimination or violence against Jews, not Muslims.
Relations between Muslim and Jewish communities are overwhelmed by the extension of the Middle East conflict to European shores. The hatreds, jealousies, and historic disputes are now being played out in new lands. The conclusions of the (EUMC) the European Monitoring Center’s Summary overview of the situation in the European Union 2001-2005 only reinforce this conclusion.
“There has been some evidence to support the view that there is some link between the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents and the political situation in the Middle East…. Moreover, some of the data indicate that there have been changes in the profile of the perpetrators. It is no longer the extreme right which is seen as solely responsible for hostility towards Jewish individuals or property…. Instead, victims identified ‘young Muslims,’ ‘people of North African origin,’ or ‘immigrants’ as perpetrators.”
The EUMC concluded that in Europe: “Anti-Semitic activity after 2000 is increasingly attributed to a ‘new anti-Semitism,’ characterized primarily by the vilification of Israel as the ‘Jewish collective’ and perpetrated primarily by members of Europe’s Muslim population.” Throughout the Middle East and in many Muslim com¬munities in Western Europe and beyond, anti-Zionist rhetoric finds frequent and powerful expression espe¬cially in Arabic-language newspapers and magazines, on the radio, on television, via the Internet, and in sermons delivered in mosques.
Anti-Semitism emanating from Muslim communities throughout Europe provides a corrosive atmosphere for Jews there and provides for an expanding hotbed of anti-Jewish feeling, attitudes, and actions. In an area so historically and tragically associated with anti-Semitism, for this virus to return in yet another guise is both infuriating and extremely worrying. History as well as common decency dictates that European authorities as well as individual Europeans have a distinct responsibility to curb this evil before it is allowed to again overwhelm the Jewish people, and worse spread to other lands.
We must not veer our eyes as Jews elsewhere suffer from anti-Semitism, ignoring the problem since it fails to rise to such a threatening level around us.
Mr. Chairman, before I close, I wish to provide a few recommendations toward this end. First, I recommend that Canada create a post of a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. When I held this position in the United States, I had very few international compatriots with whom to speak. Second, you should require your Foreign Ministry to publish an annual report on Anti-Semitism that could be assembled by your embassies overseas. Third, you should require the government to assemble annual reports on acts of anti-Semitism occurring in Canada. In this way, you will have a base of data from which to work.
Ignoring this problem is an abandonment of the Jews there and another scar upon the history of Jews and of freedom and good will itself. As Edmund Burke is said to have declared, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” It is certainly time to do something now. Thank you Mr. Chairman.