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Europe's Jews confront extremism

The synagogue in Geneva was attacked in April Keystone

Jewish community leaders from across Europe are meeting in Switzerland to discuss rising anti-Semitism and the threat of Islamic extremism.

This content was published on May 26, 2005 - 14:21

The two-day conference is also due to address the impact of secularisation, which is causing more and more Jews to abandon their faith.

The meeting of the European Council of Jewish Communities, which gets underway in Basel on Friday, is expected to attract 200 presidents from more than 40 countries.

Jewish leaders from Zurich, Basel and Geneva are attending the conference, which is being held against a backdrop of anti-Semitic attacks both in Switzerland and across Europe.

This year has seen a spate of attacks on Jewish buildings in Switzerland: a Lugano synagogue was firebombed in March; the following month the Grand Synagogue in Geneva defaced with swastikas and neo-Nazi slogans; and the Jewish cemetery in Vevey-Montreux was vandalised a couple of weeks later.

Anti-Semitism

"There has been a rise in the level of anti-Semitism. Until now we have always had some kind of latent anti-Semitism like the odd letter, but now we have more and more graffiti on Jewish buildings," said Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities.

"What is also new is that children of Orthodox Jews are being attacked in the street and called names. We are at a lower level than France, Belgium or Holland but it is still higher than a few years ago."

Donath says the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in Switzerland has been fuelled by the aggressive stance taken by the World Jewish Congress over the dormant Holocaust-era accounts scandal and the Bergier Commission report in 2002 which laid bare the extent of Swiss cooperation with the Nazis during the Second World War.

Another catalyst common to Switzerland and Europe as a whole is the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Islamic extremism

Donath, who is opening the conference on Friday, says he plans to use his speech to address the twin headaches of growing secularisation and Islamic extremism.

He says these two phenomena are changing the face of Europe and threatening Judaeo-Christian values of equity, justice and the absence of racism.

He believes European Jews have a duty to do everything to maintain these values and fight against racism and xenophobia. Donath intends to drive this point home in Basel.

"Islamic extremists are using terrorist acts to destroy Christian values in Europe," he told swissinfo.

"We get along very well with moderate Muslims; it’s just this small group of extremists in the mosques who preach violence. This is becoming a problem in western Europe and even in Switzerland."

The Swiss authorities announced plans at the end of last year to ensure Imams integrate better into society and uphold the country’s rules and values.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

The European Council of Jewish Communities is dedicated to tackling concerns shared by Jewish communities across the continent. It is primarily concerned with education, social welfare, culture and heritage.

It is the first time in two decades that the Presidents’ Conference, which is held every four years, has taken place in Switzerland.

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