Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Brexit could unleash anti-Semitic forces throughout Europe that would drive all Jews from continent, top Rabbi warns

Exclusive: Religious leader says if EU breaks up, Jewish communities could disappear within 30 years due to rise of radical right and Islamist extremism

Adam Lusher,Ted Jeory
Sunday 02 October 2016 00:16 BST
Situation of Jews in Europe is like 'two trains on a collision course'

Britain’s decision to leave the EU could result in a continent so destabilised by the threats of Islamism and the radical right that the very survival of Jewish communities is thrown into doubt, one of Europe’s most senior rabbis has warned.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, has told MEPs that Europe is in danger of breaking up and unless leaders begin to co-operate “far more” over the dangers, the consequences within 30 years will be catastrophic.

In a speech to the European Parliament, he said Jews felt they were standing on a dangerous train track with “trains coming at each other with ever increasing speed”.

He said: “One train is the train of radical Islam and Islamic terrorism... The other train is the anti-Semitism of old Europe, the extreme right.”

He added: “Both threats are existential threats for European Jews – and both trains have to be halted before it’s too late.”

His speech was delivered in Brussels on Tuesday during a special debate entitled, “The future of Jewish communities in Europe”.

But Mr Goldschmidt, who is also the chief rabbi of Moscow, went further and asked: “The question that Jews ask themselves, not only as Jews but as Europeans, does Europe in its present form have a future after the [terrorist] attacks in Paris, in Brussels, in Copenhagen, and after Brexit?”

Following the debate, Mr Goldschmidt told The Independent that anti-Semitism was now so rampant that:

  • 22 per cent (nearly one in four) Jews surveyed in nine European countries avoided Jewish events or sites because they feared for their safety
  • 40 per cent of 1,200 Jews surveyed in France said they avoided wearing symbols that identified them as Jews for fear of anti-Semitic attacks
  • Tens of thousands of Jews have emigrated from France and Belgium, while thousands more are in the process
  • Fear of attack seemed almost as great in Belgium, where 36 per cent of Jews said they avoided wearing symbols that identified them in public.

He also called for the creation of an EU anti-terrorist task force “accountable to the European Commission” and coordinating “the war against Islamic terror”.

And in remarks likely to generate further controversy, he said further work was needed to integrate the “waves of immigrants flooding Europe” into the “European value system” so they left behind “the rabid anti-Semitism and radicalism, which is rampant in the Middle East”.

He said: “If the status quo does not change radically then we are in real danger of allowing the EU to become a failed experiment.

“Are we looking, 30 years from now, at a Europe which will be divided between its component states and either under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood or under the influence of the radical right?”

The Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni Islamist organisation that claims to be peaceful.

He said until recently European Jews felt they were “going through the valley of death alone” but the terrorist massacres in Paris and Brussels had made the wider public realise there was “an existential problem for the very fabric of Europe”.

He said: “We are not flying alone any more... Let’s hope that we will fly together in the right direction and land safely wherever we want.”

The threat to Europe’s Jews, he said, was no longer confined to “the fascist elements of Islam” typified by extremists like Amedy Coulibaly who murdered four hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris last year.

He said “relatively new forms of disguised, politically correct, anti-Semitic expressions that had remained largely latent since the Shoah [Holocaust]” were re-surfacing.

Condemning attempts by extreme right political parties in Europe to ban the Jewish practises of circumcision and preparing kosher meat, he said: “We will fight for our right to practise Judaism.

“We will continue to unmask those bigots and anti-Semites, who want to fight Judaism under the political-correct flag of ‘rights of children’ and ‘rights of animals’.”

Mr Goldschmidt said countries within the EU’s border-free Schengen Area must “unite and give up part of their sovereignty”.

He said: “They need to create an anti-terrorist task force which will be accountable to the European Commission and coordinate the war against Islamic terror.”

Urging far greater EU integration, he added: “Europe in 2016 can be likened to the 18th century United States of America, which lacked a central army and government, rendering it totally ineffective and vulnerable to the forces threatening its fledgling independence.

“Radical Islam will not win the war against Europe by virtue of its strength, but only because of the weakness of the European Union.”

A general view of members of the French police special forces launching the assault at a kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris

As well as an EU anti-terror task force, he said, there had to be a similar unit to protect the EU’s outer borders and “rein in the waves of millions of immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia flooding Europe and threatening the future character of the European continent”.

Mr Goldschmidt emphasised the “human suffering” of refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe, but said there was also a need to: “Integrate them into the European value system, making sure they become Europeans in the full sense of the word, leaving behind them the rabid anti-Semitism and radicalism, which unfortunately is rampant in the Middle East.”

Calling for Islamic religious leaders in the EU to be trained in European institutions or in places certified by European organisations, he said: “It is unthinkable that in some of the houses of prayers of Europe, clergy are calling for their followers to rein in their wives by beating them into submission and promoting the virtues of honour killings.”

Explicitly distancing himself from the rhetoric of far right extremists, however, he added: “We have a problem: the radical right is fighting Islam.

“Islam is not our enemy. The moderate Muslims are the victims of radical Islam like we Jews are and every other European is.”

In his closing remarks to Tuesday’s debate, Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament, said: “When we see that every fifth Jew in Europe has experienced verbal or physical violence, when these aggressions are getting more and more numerous, and when we see that the Jewish population in Europe has decreased from almost four million in 1945 to barely more than one million today, then we know that it is high time not only to make a clear political statement, but to take effective action as soon as possible. Europe has to be a better home for its Jewish citizens.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in