Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, says Europe in particular must recognise the warning signs and address the problem robustly
Words of warning: the Chief Rabbi says that anti-Semitism "often masquerades under the disguise of anti-Israel sentiment"
ANGLICAN and Roman Catholic leaders in Britain are to join the Chief Rabbi in condemning the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. The religious leaders hope to issue a joint declaration before Christmas and are likely to cite recent attacks on synagogues and cemeteries in Britain, Germany, France and Turkey.
In an exclusive interview with The Times, Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, expressed concern that nearly six decades after the Holocaust, Jews were once again afraid to walk the streets. He acknowledged that the problem was not as serious in Britain as elsewhere in Europe, but said that even here there was a worrying rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
Dr Sacks is to join the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-Oâ€™Connor, and Rabbi Albert Friedlander in speaking out in their capacity as joint presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews.
Secular European leaders are also uniting in an attempt to confront the issue. Dr Sacks disclosed in his interview with The Times that the European rabbinate is backing plans by Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, to organise a European conference on anti-Semitism in Brussels in January.
Dr Sacks said: â€œThe 21st century should have moved beyond an age in which Jews are afraid to walk the streets and places of worship are bombed while congregations are at prayer. Europe in particular must know from its own history that these are warning signs and if they are ignored they will not go away.â€
He said that the recent attacks were not directly comparable to the events of the past century that culminated in the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jewish people were killed. Today anti-Semitism often masquerades under the guise of anti-Israel sentiment.
â€œThis is a new phenomenon,â€ he said. â€œBut already many Jews have been attacked, many Jewish sites have been destroyed or vandalised, in this country less than the rest of Europe. But still some Jews here have been attacked, including one almost three years ago who was stabbed 27 times as he sat quietly reading a book on a bus. â€œPeople are being killed. Bombs are being directed at Jewish targets. There was Jerba in Tunisia in April last year, Casablanca in May this year. Istanbul in November this year claimed Jewish lives, Muslim lives and innocent passers-by. These are countries in which Jews had felt themselves secure.
â€œThere is a strong case for religious leaders outside Judaism to make their protests. There is a consensus that there is a problem here to be addressed, and strongly.â€
An Israeli expert on anti-Semitism warned MPs about the issue on Friday. Robert Wistrich, who addressed the House of Commons anti-Semitism monitoring committee, said that attacks could â€œhappen tomorrow in Londonâ€. He told the Jewish Chronicle: â€œThe wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Europe today is a threat not only to Jews but also to the essence of Western democracy.â€
Dr Williams, enthroned this year, has already established a good relationship with Dr Sacks. Last month he was a guest at an informal reception at the Board of Deputies of British Jews and visited Istanbul and the bombed synagogues last month.
Cardinal Murphy-Oâ€™Connorâ€™s office confirmed that he shared Dr Sacksâ€™s concerns. The Roman Catholic Church has worked hard to improve relations with the Jewish faith in recent years and the Pope has visited the Temple Wall in Jerusalem.
Dr Sacks summarised the basis of his concerns: â€œToday there is a slide from opposition to Israeli policies to opposition to the very existence of the State of Israel to attacks on Jews. Whenever we see a slide from a political problem to the demonisation of a whole group we are in the presence of a very dangerous trend indeed. All of history tells us this. The second is that it is bringing together a strange coalition of radical Islamists, the anti-American Left and the extreme Right, groups who would otherwise have virtually nothing in common. Whenever an attack on a group unifies otherwise disparate groups then again we are in the presence of a dangerous phenomenon that can be manipulated to political ends.â€
Dr Sacks was speaking to The Times on the eve of being awarded the $200,000 (Â£116,000) Grawemeyer Award in Religion by the Louisville University and Louisville Presbyterian theological seminary in America. The award, to be announced tomorrow, is for Dr Sacksâ€™s book The Dignity of Difference, in which he says: â€œFor too long, the pages of history have been stained by blood shed in the name of God. Allied to weapons of mass destruction, extremist religious attitudes threaten the very security of life on Earth.â€
Dr Sacks told The Times that his intention in the book was to chart a positive way forward. â€œMy belief is that politicians will attempt to exploit religious differences. In the 21st century, if religion does not become part of the solution, it will become part of the problem.â€
A YEAR OF HATE CRIMES
Turkey: 25 people killed in suicide bombings of two synagogues in Istanbul on November 15.
Britain: More than 380 Jewish graves damaged at the Plashet Cemetery, East London, on May 8.
Britain: An arson attack on the Hillock Hebrew Congregation synagogue near Manchester, in November.
France: A Jewish school in Paris firebombed on November 15.
France: Prayer books torn and Juif-mort (Jew-death) written on a wall in a synagogue in Saint-Denis in July.
Italy: Graffiti at the office of the state-owned media network in March, after a journalist of Jewish origin named director.
Austria: A rabbi assaulted by two youths in Vienna as he walked home from prayer earlier this year.
Germany: Nazi slogans sprayed on headstones in Gundesberg, Germany in October.
Germany: Wreaths laid at a Kristallnacht memorial defaced.
Belgium: A man tried to explode a vehicle in front of a synagogue in Belgium in June.