British Jewish leaders this week expressed scepticism about proposed pan-European legislation to outlaw anti-Semitism.
The proposed legislation was presented in Prague, where community leaders – under the leadership of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) – gathered to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Under the proposed legislation, anti-Semitism would be outlawed and a host of other activities deemed to be violating fundamental rights on specious religious, cultural, ethnic and gender grounds would be criminalised.
These would include banning Holocaust denial, the burqa, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and creating a new crime of “group libel” – public defamation of ethnic, cultural or religious groups. Women’s and gay rights would also be covered.
The proposed legislation would also curb, in the wake of the attacks in Paris earlier this month in which 17 people died, freedom of expression in the interests of security.
“Tolerance is a two-way street. Members of a group who wish to benefit from tolerance must show it to society at large, as well as to members of other groups and to dissidents or other members of their own group,” says the document.
“There is no need to be tolerant to the intolerant. This is especially important as far as freedom of expression is concerned: that freedom must not be abused to defame other groups.”
Addressing the Let My People Live conference, EJC President Moshe Kantor said: ““Please, no political correctness today,” Kantor said. Issues concerning Holocaust denial and the security of European Jews “should be discussed without thinking about political correctness and how it would sound.”
He added: There’s a real threat of another Jewish exodus from Europe. The only way to fix these problems is deep changes in legislation to protect all, not just Jews.”
Pulling no punches, he added: “Multiculturalism has given birth to monocultural ghettoes. Europe is on the edge of a new middle ages. Our Judeo-Christian values are being destroyed as they were 70 years ago.”
However, Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies, was sceptical about the legislation. He told Jewish News: “The proposed legislation doesn’t drill down to details, and that’s good. We shouldn’t be criminalising insulting religion. Of course, no right is absolute, but we need to be very careful about curtailing hard-won freedoms. The insult to Islam [by Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons] was like nothing to the insult to Islam by those who killed in the name of their religion.”
Gerald Ronson, the President of the Community Security Trust, echoed Mr Wineman’s position. He told Jewish News: “I’ve been fighting fascism and fundamentalism for the past 50 years and I think there’s too much intellectualisation going on. Every country is different and you can’t generalise. There will come a time when Jews in some countries will have to move on as they always have.”
He added, however, that he didn’t “accept the Campaign Against Antisemitism poll that claimed that 45 percent of British Jews were thinking of leaving. “It was irresponsible and the press sensationalised it.”
Lord Levy, the president of Jewish Care, was particularly scathing of Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, who claimed that one in four Europeans was an anti-Semite.
He said: “It was wonderful to see all these top people, such as Czech president, Moshe Kantor and the President of the European Parliament Martin Shultz coming together on such an important subject. However it was, I think, irresponsible of Abraham Foxman – an American – to come here and tell us that one in four people is an anti-Semite.”