Reporting from Belgium by video link to AJC members at The Jewish Center in Princeton and the AJC New Jersey office in Millburn, Daniel Schwammenthal, director of AJC’s Transatlantic Institute, spoke of the dangers inherent in having two parallel societies in Europe. The majority support democratic and progressive Western values, but parts of the Muslim immigrant population do not, he said, “share the same values when it comes not just to the issue of anti-Semitism but also the issue of equality between genders, and homophobia.”
Schwammenthal noted that only a small fraction of that population is willing to commit violence in the name of an extreme ideology like radical Islam, but, he suggested, necessary traditional police and counterterrorism efforts are insufficient to change the status quo. To begin to make a dent, he said, “You have to get to the educational areas and ensure that we break up these parallel societies and ensure that all share the same values.”
To approach a solution, he said, the issue needs to be studied in multiple dimensions. But “many countries do not carry out real surveys among the Muslim population, because they don’t want to stigmatize them,” he said, acknowledging that these countries do need to proceed carefully because of the issue’s sensitivity.
During the Q&A he suggested some policies that might begin to effect incremental changes. “I would cut off all Qatari and Saudi Gulf funding of radical mosques and schools,” he said, noting that the Saudis have already contributed to the radicalization of the predominantly Moroccan and moderate community that immigrated to Europe in the 1960s.
In addition, he said, Europe needs to establish the fact that religious education has become a question of national security. “When you touch national security, you have to take extreme measures, like cutting off money from countries that are unfree — that money cannot come into our free societies and brainwash and manipulate young European Muslims.”
Schwammenthal would also like to see money invested in schools to develop specific programs for the immigrant community as well as a mixing of cultures and religions in classrooms to replace the segregation that exists today.
With the string of European terror attacks over the last couple of years, Schwammenthal said, his AJC advocacy has become more than “a cause I happen to believe in — really, I am advocating on my personal behalf.”
At the Jewish day school his two children attend in Belgium, the government this year stepped up security from the police protection in place for several years and put paratroopers and a military truck in front of the school. Although thankful, he said, “After each terror attack, my wife and I ask ourselves the question that so many Jewish parents ask themselves, whether we are responsible parents for sending our children to a Jewish school.”
On the other hand, he said, “anti-Semitism has become so widespread that it is hard to send kids to a non-Jewish school, because kids are bullied or even worse.”
As the attacks have recently moved beyond the Jewish community to the general public, Schwammenthal said, “there is much greater understanding among the authorities that they really need to tackle this.” So things have become a little easier at his office, he said, because “it is no longer just us Jews.” At the same time, he added, the approach of European authorities “is still sort of ‘p.c.’ and there is hesitation to express clearly what the problem is.”
By working with diplomats and government officials and holding conferences, his office tries “to bring clarity to the discussion.” At a recent EU conference, the AJC included a panel of outspoken religious Muslim moderates, which was important, Schwammenthal said, because “unfortunately there is still sort of a tendency to try to play down the problem with the Muslim community, even now where the evidence is unavoidable.”
Turning to the relationship between Europe and Israel, Schwammenthal described it as a “glass half-full and half-empty.” On the one hand, Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner, appreciated particularly for its technological and security expertise. But, he said, that relationship has been hampered by the standoff between Israelis and Palestinians. “The danger is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict threatens to overshadow all other aspects of the Israel-Europe relationship,” he said.
Regarding Iran, AJC, which did not support the 2015 nuclear agreement, finds itself having to respond to European businesspeople and government officials who are flying to Iran with huge delegations. “There is economic stagnation in Europe; the appeal of doing business with Iran is even greater than ever,” he said.
Not only are they seeking business partners, he said, but they have a naive hope that Iran could be a strategic partner in the region. Because ISIS is Sunni and an enemy to largely Shia Iran, he explained, the thought is that “this can lead to some kind of alliance or cooperation, not just selling goods.”
Schwammenthal, however, challenges these diplomats, reminding them that Iran remains a fundamentalist Islamic regime, where death penalties are at a record high, and that external aggression continues.
Following the talk, Herb Horowitz, past president of the AJC Central NJ chapter, told NJJN, “The situation in Europe from a Jewish perspective is very depressing because of the rise in anti-Semitism, what is happening within the Islamic community, and the impact on Israel.” He expressed gratitude to AJC for investing significant resources and ensuring that decision-makers have the facts to confront these problems.