Islamic radicalization fuels ‘dire’ threat to Jews in Europe, congressional panel hears

A congressional human rights commission heard testimony from experts on how Islamic radicalization in Europe has ramped up risk for Jewish communities.

“ISIS especially hates the Jewish people and has instructed its followers to prioritize killing them,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said Tuesday, launching the hearing he called in the wake of recent attacks in Europe, and referring to the Islamic State terrorist group behind some of the recent major attacks in Europe.

John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who now leads a Rutgers University initiative to assess how to protect communities vulnerable to terrorism, said terrorist attacks were threatening the viability of Jewish Europe.

“The situation on the ground has become dire, the challenge to the Jewish communities has become nothing less than existential,” he said. “Many stalwart [Jewish] leaders have become ambivalent about remaining in Europe at all.”

Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Communities Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America, described a continuum of anti-Semitic violence over the last 20 years from attacks originating in right-wing extremism to those carried out by militant Islamists.

“In the span of two decades, we’ve moved from swastikas on buildings, the desecration of graveyards and simple assaults as well as long-standing institutionalized anti-Semitism to brutal violence, commando-style shooting attacks and even suicide bombings on the streets of Europe by battlefield-trained terrorist cells and organizations,” he said.

The experts, answering questions from Democrats and Republicans on the panel, identified the failure of European law enforcement agencies to fully coordinate and engage with Muslim communities as factors hindering bids to prevent attacks.

Farmer said he and Goldenberg would travel to Copenhagen and Brussels soon to meet with authorities and “explore concrete ways in which we might assist the Jewish and other vulnerable communities and law enforcement in working together to enhance public safety.”

Farmer also recommended that European law enforcement agencies emulate the FBI and more robustly engage with Muslim communities to enlist assistance in identifying radicals.

Rabbi Andrew Baker, the top official dealing with anti-Semitism at the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the reluctance of European authorities to identify anti-Semitism imported from the Middle East as being as toxic as indigenous ultranationalist anti-Semitism was also frustrating treatment of the violence.

“It has eroded the day-to-day sense of comfort and security for many European Jews,” said Baker, who is also the American Jewish Committee director of international affairs.

Jonathan Biermann, a former adviser to the Belgian government on anti-Semitism and intolerance, among other issues, counseled the adoption of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “see something, say something” initiative, which promotes awareness of terrorism warning signs among civilians.

“The collaboration with law enforcement agencies has to be based on trust and confidence, in respect of international laws and rules protecting individual freedom, civil liberties and privacy,” Biermann said.

Helsinki commissions are parliamentary bodies affiliated with the OSCE that monitor human rights.

Worst east Ukraine shelling for month; cease-fire looks in doubt

East Ukraine's rebel stronghold Donetsk was pummeled on Sunday by the heaviest shelling in a month, and the OSCE said it spotted an armored column of troops without insignia in rebel territory that Kiev said proved Moscow had sent reinforcements.

A two-month-old ceasefire to end a war that has killed 4,000 people has appeared shakier than ever in the past few days, with each side accusing the other of having violated the terms of the peace plan.

Reuters journalists inside Donetsk, who have been there throughout the fighting, said the shelling sounded more intense than at any time since early October. Sunday's strikes appeared to come from territory held by both government and rebel forces.

Ukraine's military said its standoff with the Russian-backed separatists in the east had intensified in the past week, which saw the rebels swear in new leaders after elections the government says violated the terms of the truce pact.

Ukraine has accused Russia of sending a column of 32 tanks and truckloads of troops into the country's east to support the pro-Russian rebels in recent days. Moscow has long denied its troops operate in east Ukraine, although many have died there.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia and Ukraine as well as the United States and NATO countries, operates in East Ukraine with the blessing of all sides and is widely seen as neutral.

Its statement that it spotted an unidentified armored column in rebel territory helps support Kiev's position that Moscow has been sending in reinforcements to protect separatist enclaves the Kremlin now refers to as “New Russia”.


In one 40-vehicle convoy, “19 were large trucks – Kamaz type, covered, and without markings or number plates – each towing a 122 mm howitzer and containing personnel in dark green uniforms without insignia,” the watchdog said in statement.

Ukraine said it had no doubt the new troops were Russians.

“Although the OSCE did not specify to whom the equipment and soldiers belonged, the Ukrainian military has no doubt of their identity,” said military spokesman Andriy Lysenko.

“The past week was characterized by an increase in the intensity of shelling and the transfer of additional force: ammunition, equipment and personnel, to terrorist groups,” Lysenko said.

Reuters reporters in rebel-held Donetsk said intense shelling by heavy artillery continued throughout the night and into the early hours, and then picked up again later on Sunday morning. The shelling could be heard in the center of the city, which had a pre-conflict population of more than 1 million.

“There have been rumors for a while that one of the sides is getting ready to break the ceasefire and go on the offensive,” local businessman Enrique Menendez said, describing Saturday's shelling as a “night of wrath”.

Large clouds of black smoke could be seen over the ruins of the airport, which is still under government control but which the separatists are seeking to seize.

Lysenko said three Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours and a further 13 injured. The media service for the military operation said two policemen and one civilian had died in shelling on Sunday.

The White House National Security Council said on Sunday it was “very concerned” by the intensified fighting and reports, including from the OSCE, that separatists were moving large convoys of weapons and tanks to the front lines.

“Any attempt by separatist forces to seize additional territory in eastern Ukraine would be a blatant violation of the Minsk agreements,” NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement, referring to a ceasefire deal reached on Sept. 5.

“We reiterate our call on the Russian Federation to honor all of the commitments it made in Minsk, including ending its military supply to the separatists and the withdrawal of all of its troops and weapons from Ukraine.”

OSCE Chairman Didier Burkhalter has also urged both sides to stick to the Minsk agreements.


Lysenko said Ukraine's military believes Russia could stir up tension to provide grounds to “send in so-called Russian peace-keeping units”.

The United States and European Union have imposed economic sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine since March, when Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. Moscow has since backed separatists who rose up in east Ukraine, while denying the presence of its own troops.

The sanctions have hurt Russia's economy, already facing a fall in the price for its oil exports, and have helped drive a crash in the value of the Russian rouble.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday the United States and Russia had agreed to exchange information about the situation on the Russia-Ukraine border due to some “some disagreements about some of the facts on the ground”.

Although Russia blames the crisis on Kiev and the West, NATO has said it has overwhelming evidence that Russia has aided the rebels militarily in the conflict.

On Saturday, investigative journalists published a report on the downing of a Malaysian airplane over rebel territory in July in which 298 people died.

The Bellingcat report said there was “strong evidence indicating that the Russian military provided separatists in eastern Ukraine with the Buk missile” believed to have brought down the plane.

Reporting by Anton Zverev and Kazbek Basaev in Donetsk, Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Peter Cooney in Washington; Writing by Alexander Winning and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Andrew Roche

Report: Anti-Israel attitudes fueling anti-Semitism in Norway

Anti-Israel attitudes in Norway may be fueling anti-Semitism there, the international security organization OSCE warned.

The warning came in a report on Norway compiled by members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the daily Aftenposten reported, adding that the report called the trend “disturbing.”

The report also called for the abolition of a ban on Jewish ritual slaughter, or shechitah, that has been in place in Norway since 1929. Abolishing the ban would be “an important symbolic gesture,” the report said, according to Aftenposten.

The OSCE report points to a survey conducted last year by TNS Gallup for the Oslo-based Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities. Thirty-eight percent of the survey’s 1,522 respondents said that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is comparable to the actions of the Nazis. Some 12 percent expressed strong anti-Jewish attitudes.

The delegates also called Norway “an exemplary state when it comes to human rights and equality,” but called on police to do more to confront hate crimes.

“The foreign minister should promote a civilized discussion about the Middle East conflict, and to react when the state of Israel is demonized in public discourse,” Aftenposten quoted the report as saying.

The OSCE delegation to Norway was comprised of Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Adil Akhmetov, a Kazakhstani diplomat; and Catherine McGuinness, a retired Supreme Court judge from Ireland.

Europe Taking Action on Anti-Semitism

There are, indeed, some things to cheer about. If we compare today to where matters stood a year ago, a significant difference is the willingness of European leaders to acknowledge there is a problem. Denial is out.

French President Jacques Chirac, after more than two years of avoiding the issue, now recognizes that anti-Semitism in France is a problem. He has denounced it publicly as unacceptable.

Following the publication of a European poll that found more Europeans seeing Israel as a threat to peace than any other country, Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, recognized the seriousness of this kind of thinking and organized a conference in Brussels in response. And the European Union monitoring group has conducted a full-blown report on anti-Semitism in Europe in response to the worsening situation.

Beyond the end of denial, steps have been taken and structures put in place to combat the hatred, most notably in France. President Chirac established a special task force, led by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and including the ministers of justice, interior, education and foreign affairs. The group meets monthly, with each minister expected to report on what his ministry has done in the past month to deal with anti-Semitism.

Already, a number of initiatives have emerged from this structure, among them Holocaust education projects for the schools and legislation that would prohibit hateful satellite broadcasts from the Middle East. Aside from the substantive efforts, the message of seriousness emanating from the highest levels of government was important in itself.

The coming together of leaders from the 55 OSCE participating nations represents the move beyond an end of denial toward commitment to take action. The task now before those leaders is to concretize and institutionalize the fight against anti-Semitism.

The Berlin meeting and all such efforts are only as meaningful as the follow-up framework they leave behind after the photo-ops are over. Sustained, long-term monitoring, law enforcement action and education efforts must be championed by the OSCE conference and put into place by participating states.

Europe still has a long way to go. The gap between what is being done and what needs to be done is symbolized by the recent release of the E.U. Monitoring Center (EUMC) study of anti-Semitism. The report itself suggested that the surge in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe in the last two years was mostly the result of action by radical Muslim activists acting on anti-Israel emotions.

But in releasing the report, the EUMC felt compelled to sanitize the findings — focusing first on anti-Semitism perpetrated by "young, disaffected White European[s]." Not surprisingly, the international media used this as the focus for their stories, and so to much of the world, that became the story.

This speaks to the continuing reluctance of Europe to address satisfactorily the connection of anti-Israel bias to the explosion of anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, too many in Europe still see efforts to address the impact of anti-Israel activity as a vehicle to stifle legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. This becomes an excuse to avoid looking inward to understand how Europe has come to this pass and how it can get to the other side.

It also inhibits one of the most important responsibilities Europe has: to denounce on a consistent basis the Goebbels-like hatred toward Jews and Israel coming out of the Arab world.

Let’s be clear. No one who is serious about these issues is seeking to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. Identifying the sources of this new anti-Semitism and finding ways to combat it, not politics, are the goals of these endeavors.

In this regard, it was helpful that the E.U. report identified as anti-Semitism the use of classical anti-Jewish stereotypes (Jews as all-powerful, as deceitful) in describing Israel. What the report failed to do and, indeed, much of Europe fails to do, is to look at the connection between the one-sided criticism, the demonization, the delegitimization of Israel and anti-Semitism.

These images, often themselves manifestations of anti-Semitism, create the climate in which anti-Semitic incidents are more likely to occur, and in which there is hesitancy to act against the perpetrators.

It has been appropriately said that comparisons between today’s situation in Europe and the 1930s are absurd and counterproductive. There is no anti-Semitic party committed to the destruction of the Jewish people in control of a powerful state in the heart of the continent. And unlike the 30s, there are mechanisms in place that have within them the potential to deal with the very real manifestations of anti-Semitism in today’s Europe.

But what is also reality is that Jews in Europe are feeling intimidated and threatened once again, not by Nazi racist thugs and their allies, but by attacks on persons and institutions, by harassment of their youngsters in schools and by a sense of isolation as the media and universities bombard the public with images of Israel as the great source of evil in the world.

These circumstances should be unacceptable anywhere, but particularly on the Continent, where millions of Jews were murdered. Disagreement with policies of the government of Israel must not be the excuse to allow anti-Semitism to flourish once again in Europe.

Abraham H. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.