The president of the Conference of European Rabbis [CER] has spoken of his regret at Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, saying it has “made life more difficult” for Jews in mainland Europe.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who is also the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, told the JC that “one voice which was a very strong voice for religious freedom in a very secular Europe, was the voice of the United Kingdom.
“Today, after Brexit, that voice is not being heard anymore inside Europe, which I also think is having a negative impact on freedom of religion issues in Europe”, he said.
“Maybe for Britain it’s better, but for us in Europe it has made life more difficult.”
Other prominent rabbis at the CER discussed elections in their own countries. In reference to the Austrian presidential elections last year, Rabbi Arie Folger, Chief Rabbi of Vienna, said that “we suspected that a not insignificant number of the members of the Jewish community were considering to vote for the far-right candidate.” He said this was due to “concerns regarding rising Muslim antisemitism”. Those who are familiar with Austrian politics considered that a massive mistake.
The close nature of the election, he said, had meant that “suddenly our few thousand votes mattered.
“The community went out and we campaigned [for the left-wing candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen].
“It had never happened that the Jewish community came out with an official statement supporting a candidate. We’re generally for the political pluralism that belongs in a Democracy, but in this case, we felt it was too foolish to fall into the trap [of the far right].
“So we really sprang into action, and I think that by the time the vote came around, the atmosphere was such that many of the people who were considering voting for the far right candidate – although we don’t know for sure - recognised what we’re dealing with and said ‘we don’t want to go down this avenue’.”
Rabbi Folger referred to Mr Van der Bellen, who won the election, as “a wonderful person who truly understands the depth and breadth of antisemitism, having publicly recognized that 20th century antisemitism predated the Nazis by many years in Austria, too”.
Rabbi Haim Korsia, the Chief Rabbi of France, discussed the presidential election in France earlier this month.
“Amidst the simcha we cannot forget the threat of a dark future”, he said.
“Thirty-four per cent of people voted for Marine Le Pen, the Front Nationale, 12 million didn’t vote, and over three million [spoiled their ballots]
“This vote was a question of values – which France we want. We don’t want France to be very little, we want France to dream. Front Nationale proposed to close the door, a ‘Frexit’ from our values of liberation and freedom”.
Rabbi Korsia also said that the number of antisemitic incidents reported in France had declined by 63 per cent last year, but “of course we have 10,000 soldiers on the street, especially in front of synagogues, but also Jewish schools”.
With regards to security, Rabbi Goldschmidt said that today “terrorism is not only targeting Jewish houses of worship or community centres – today every European is a target.
“This brings with it good news and bad news. The good news is that European leaders understand that if they are not going to take care of this problem, Europe is at stake, not only the Jewish community. But the bad news is that governments are less inclined to give support to the communities for their security needs, saying that everyone is a target today.
“We [the CER] have been telling European governments ‘you have a responsibility to protect every one of your citizens, and if your Jewish citizens are in more danger than everybody else – and Jews are still on the front line of the minds of ISIS and Islamic terrorists – the governments have to do everything possible to make sure that Jews will not leave Europe because they are scared of their security”.
Concerning European elections, he said that although far right parties had failed to win, he warned that “the political platform of those far-right parties, especially as it pertains to us Jews, especially in the areas of freedom of religion, regarding circumcision and kosher and halal meat, as we’ve seen in Norway and in Belgium, those platforms have been taken over by mainstream parties.
“We see a radicalisation of European politics in terms of curtailing freedoms of religion for minority religions, and that’s a very worrying tendency”.