Jews and Muslims in Europe have a common cause in resisting attacks on minority religions and defending religious freedom, Europe’s top rabbi has said. Speaking on the eve of Passover, which begins on Monday, chief rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt warned that the rise of ultra-nationalist parties and damage to the European Union caused by Brexit threatened the security of Jewish and Muslim minorities.
“When there is tolerance for other languages, other cultures, religions, traditions, we Jews feel more accepted,” Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis and chief rabbi of Moscow, told the Observer.
“Jews always felt more comfortable in places where other cultures and religions were respected. At the moment when an ultra-nationalist wind begins to blow, it makes Jews, as a minority, uncomfortable.”
Europe was heading into a period of fluidity and turbulence, “which raises the question to what extent can you ensure the continuity of the Jewish community in Europe,” he said. A new mood of hostility to minority religions was being fuelled by fears over immigration and terrorism.
“In general what we see is a reaction to immigration from the Middle East which has brought millions of Muslims to Europe. Europe is now engaging in anti-immigration measures and [dealing with] the fear of Islamic terrorism. But instead of engaging with the problems, there is a strong attack against minority religions in general. “We [Jews and Muslims] definitely have a common cause in fighting for religious freedoms.”
Goldschmidt cited calls to close mosques, ban methods of ritual slaughter in the production of halal and kosher meat, outlaw circumcision – practised by Jews and Muslims – and last month’s European court of justice ruling that employers could ban workers from wearing religious symbols or clothing.
Concerns over religious freedom in Europe led to the formation of the Muslim-Jewish Leadership Council in September 2015. Its leaders said it was the “first common platform for European Muslims and Jews”.
With the victory of Trump, we have ultra-nationalist parties feeling invigorated and strengthened
Jews had been victims of Islamist terrorism in Europe, Goldschmidt pointed out. “We are the last ones to say it is not a problem. But what we are saying is that you don’t counter and fight Islamic terrorism by fighting Islam. It’s extremely important to mark a red line between normative Islam and radicalism and terrorism using the name of Islam. That red line must be seen and recognised by everyone. But populist parties in France, Holland, Austria and Germany are trying not to see this red line. It’s imperative for us and millions of Muslims living in Europe to show everyone this red line exists.”
Donald Trump’s victory in last year’s US elections had raised fears that ultra-nationalist parties in Europe might benefit from a “tailwind”, he said. The anti-Islam, anti-EU, populist Geert Wilders had been defeated in the Dutch elections last month, “but we need to see what happens in France and Germany”.
Goldschmidt added: “With the victory of Trump, we have ultra-nationalist parties feeling invigorated and strengthened, and they hope to have more influence in European politics. So it’s important to retain European common values and European unity. If we say every country is on its own, and we’re all looking out for the interests of our own country, the European Union has been a failed project and we could go back to 1914.”
The rabbi also warned against “covert antisemitism” under the banner of the movement to boycott Israel in protest at its 50-year occupation of Palestinian territories. “It’s not politically correct to be an all-out antisemite, but in many instances the state of Israel has replaced the Jew. To some extent, organisations … which are trying to delegitimise the state of Israel is a covert expression of antisemitism.”
There was a “great distance” between legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, he said.
The festival of Passover, during which Jews commemorate the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in ancientEgypt, told in the biblical story of the Exodus, begins at sunset on Mondayand lasts for eight days.