A modern face on an old hatred
There was a time when it was socially acceptable, even rewarding, to spread hateful invective about Jews being directly responsible for the deaths of infants in order to observe their archaic, bloodthirsty rituals. There was a time when it was considered so socially acceptable that even elected officials thought nothing of making these claims in public and without fear that they would be challenged for doing so.
Incredibly, that time was just a few weeks ago at the European Parliament.
People tend to respond to the suggestion that Europe is becoming a less tolerant place by dismissing the notion without thought. Europe is fairer than it has ever been, they say, look at the emphasis that governments place on human rights legislation and the great public support for global anti-racism campaigns, along with the fantastic work done by non-governmental organisations.
Certainly, we should be more tolerant and accepting of difference than we ever have been. Yet last month, Austrian MEP Andreas Molzer tabled a formal question to the European Parliament entitled: "Child deaths caused by halal meat". The question went on to refer to both halal and kosher meat.
Molzer went on to refer to halal and kosher meat
Molzer began by noting the "hundreds of children" that die in France of "bacterial infections caused by contaminated meat" and by wondering "to what extent the increase in E. coli contamination of minced or ground meat is linked with increasing consumption of halal or kosher meat".
There is, of course, no evidence to support the ludicrous notion that halal or kosher meat is more susceptible to infection or dangerous in any way. But no matter; for that, it turns out, was the reason for the question. Molzer went on to ask whether an upcoming study could be used to examine this issue.
I have no idea whether he understands just how unpleasant this question was or believes there is a legitimate scientific concern to be discussed. What concerns me is the nature of the response - deafening silence.
Yes, I will be writing on behalf of the Conference of European Rabbis to express our displeasure and I hope that others will read this and do the same. But the response of the media and other politicians has been extraordinary in its indifference. It has become more acceptable than at any time in recent memory to make wild accusations and generalisations about minorities.
Last week's local elections left the BNP with just four councillors. Yet on the continent the opposite is true. In France, Holland, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Greece and even Germany, the far right is gaining in popularity and influence. Jews may no longer be the first target - the Muslim community tends to bear the brunt of the hatred - but make no mistake, they are not attacking Islam, they are attacking difference.
A week ago, I joined other European religious leaders imn paying tribute to those whose lives were brutally taken by Anders Breivik. Following a minute's silence, we made a commitment to respect and cherish difference so that it could never become a source of intolerance or hatred. I fear though that it is one thing to make that commitment but quite another to have the bravery to honour it. How many of us can really say that we make reaching out to those who are different a priority?
In an age when society is not as tolerant as we would perhaps like to think it is, each one of us shares the responsibility to identify and challenge hatred, at home, at work, in all aspects of life, in the UK and across Europe.
Rabbi Goldschmidt is president of the Conference of European Rabbis