Prominent Muslim and Jewish leaders from across Europe gathered in Paris have pledged to stand together against the rise of far-right xenophobic and racist parties that represent an escalating peril to ethnic and religious minorities across Europe, including Jews and Muslims. Members of the Coordinating Committee of European Muslim and Jewish Leaders, including top communal leaders from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the US, announced plans for a series of public events in European capitals, on 9 May (Europe Day). The leaders expressed deep concern about the emergence into the political mainstream of extremist parties in many European countries and declared that it was “totally unacceptable” that several of these parties had been accepted by governing coalitions as tacit partners where they are allowed to help shape the agenda.
Contending that “Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism must never be allowed to become respectable,” the leaders expressed disquiet over recent pronouncements by European statesmen including President Sarkozy of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Cameron of Britain, characterizing multiculturalism as a failure; comments that have been cited by far-right parties as evidence that they are winning the battle for public opinion in Europe. Promising to press European decision-makers not to co-operate in any way with extremist parties, the Jewish and Muslim leaders vowed: “We will not allow ourselves to be separated, but will stand together to fight bigotry against Muslims, Jews and other minorities. An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.”
Citing studies which show that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are both growing rapidly in countries across Europe, the communal leaders affirmed that “Jews and Muslims are equal stakeholders in Europe, not expendable guests, and must therefore enjoy the same rights as everybody else. Appeasing those that sow the seeds of hatred and division is not only morally wrong, but will have disastrous consequences for Europe if allowed to continue.”
The first meeting of the Coordinating Committee was co-organized by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), the World Council for Muslim Inter-Faith Relations (WCMIR), and the World Jewish Congress (WJC). It was a follow up to the first annual Gathering of European Muslim and Jewish leaders launched in Brussels last December. At the time, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy received the group and endorsed its aims. WCMIR’s European chair, British Imam Abduljalil Sajid, declared: “Islamophobia and anti-Semitism represent the sharp end of racism in Europe, so Jews and Muslims must fight them together, and prevent anyone from turning us into scapegoats. At the same time, Europeans of all backgrounds should come together to defend basic European and universal values of democracy, pluralism and mutual acceptance.”
FFEU President and WJC Vice President Rabbi Marc Schneier, who successfully initiated similar activities between Muslims and Jews in America together with the Islamic Society of North America, said: “Although much of the venom of extremist and populist parties is directed these days against Muslims, it should not be forgotten that several of the far-right parties, including the National Front in France, have histories replete with anti-Semitism. On 9 May, we will gather in Paris and elsewhere to say that the rise of such parties across Europe is menacing to both of our communities, as well as to basic democratic values of pluralism and tolerance. If Europe wants to remain true to its ethical and spiritual foundations, it must embrace people from different cultures, religions and ways of life. If not, it will not only fail as a concept, it will lose its soul.”