Briefing by Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior
to the European Ambassadors in Israel

Jerusalem, 29 January 2002

Opening Remarks

After we created the international commission to combat anti-semitism a few of weeks ago, I was asked by some of the ambassadors and the representatives of the European Union here to meet on this issue. I thought that it was important that we meet together in this group, and I am very pleased an honored to have you here in the Foreign Ministry this morning.

We respect and put a lot of weight to what the European governments think of the situation here. At the same time, we do not wish that this be utilized in a way which would not be fortunate to the future development of peace and security in the area. Therefore, I think it is important that we clarify these issues together and I am pleased that we can talk about it already this morning.

I do want to say some introductory comments on the issue of anti-semitism. Anti-semitism is the oldest, the most stubborn form of prejudice which humankind has known, and it has brought the most tragic results in the history of humankind. Therefore, we not only are sensitive to this hatred, but we have to be, we have an obligation to be, and we even have some bitter knowledge of what happens when you ignore this cancer which is then allowed to develop, prosper and flourish. Therefore, it has to be fought in every way.

Today, anti-semitism is not only a Jewish problem. Actually it has never been only a Jewish problem, but even more so today. Today nearly all the Jews of the world live in democracies. Therefore, the old issue of anti-semitism, which was mostly connected to civil rights, to physical attacks, in a way this threat of anti-semitism against the Jewish people has diminished over recent years. This is, of course, a development which is positive. Fortunately we have more democracies in the world today than the world has ever known before – I think the number is around 70. That is not enough, but it is a good sign and a good path, and healthy also for fighting anti-semitism.

What has happened recently and even with a stronger impact over recent years and over the last 18 months has been the development of a new anti-semitism. It is not something which has just started over these 18 months, but it is something which worries us deeply and, as the State of Israel and the state of the Jewish people, the worries of the Jewish people are our worries.

I again want to stress: it is not a specifically Jewish issue. Therefore the majority of the members of the new international commission will be non-Jews who understand that anti-semitism is not only a threat to Judaism and Jews, but is a threat to democracy and decency; that it might start with prejudice and hatred against the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews. It always goes on to other groups. And prejudice and hatred towards foreign workers, or towards Muslims or towards any other minority group – the "other" in society – is equally as despicable as is the hatred against Jews. Therefore it is important for any kind of democracy to tell the truth about the past and not to let the haters attack the fundamentals of the modern liberal democratic society.

Here there are things which very much worry us – such as some of these hatreds which we also hear in our neighboring countries. The Arab anti-semitism has become a factor which has changed our situation in the Middle East. There is, of course, and can be a dispute between the Arab countries, the Palestinians and Israel. There can be a political dispute, and that is legitimate. I would hope that we would be beyond this, that we would talk about this later, but we have a national fight over an area which both peoples believe is theirs. I believe that we have to solve this as a territorial conflict which has be to solved with territorial means, which means that we have to share and that they have borders so that we can have borders, and they have peace so that we can have peace. This is my conviction.

Unfortunately, recently the tactics have been changed from a dispute over territory to a dispute over religion, and with even another further development – not only delegitimization of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, but a demonization which uses all the classical motives of classical anti-semitism in its fight. We have to fight this, because this is spreading. It is spreading to parts of the human rights community. We saw it significantly in Durban, the singling out of Israel as if there were no other problems in any other countries in the world; the upgrading of anti-semitism; the demonization of the whole national existence of the Jewish people – which fortunately in the end the countries of Europe, as most other decent countries in the world, stood up against this. But it took a long time.

We have to be against any kind of singling out. Here Israel in many ways becomes the Jew among the nations. We have to work in every area – we have to work on the international scene, we have to work with the judicial systems in our countries, we have to work with education and public explanation. We also have to do things like what the interfaith summit that was held in Alexandria last week, which in the Middle East created a lot of furor because it was perhaps a ray of light in a period of darkness.

We gathered together, religious leaders who are willing: number one, to sit together – which is something quite new in this time; number two, to make it public – in front of the whole public opinion, both in Israel and in all the Arab countries, it got a very central place in the news; and number three, to issue a common declaration, which might be things that for all of us around the table here are obvious, but they are not obvious for the peoples of the Middle East: that to kill people in the name of God is the worst desecration of God’s name.

I asked Sheikh Tantawi, who is really the greatest leader today among the Sunni Muslims and certainly the greatest leader in Egypt – a great spiritual leader. Some of my Muslim friends told me that to use the expression "desecration of God’s name", which we in Judaism can use, is kind of blasphemy in Islam. I asked him for a religious decision if we were allowed to use this in the joint declaration we were making. He said to me that it’s true that in Islam this expression is very seldom used, but for a crime as serious as this crime – killing people and hurting people in the name of God – for that you can use this expression.

We had there Palestinian leaders, courageous men. It wasn’t easy for them, it was difficult and we are not finished with the process. It’s a first step. But we have to come out with a message that a belief in God and a belief in exploding the future of humankind do not work together for any of our religions. All of our religions can be misused. Religions has been misused here in Israel also, in many different instances. What you see in the cities of Israel these days, with all the terror and so on, is a daily misuse of the name of God. But there are responsible leaders who are willing to stand up together and start a new process – this is also part of what we have to do at the same time as we are fighting terror.

 Briefing by Deputy FM Rabbi Michael Melchior to the European Ambassadors in Israel-29-Jan-2002
 Briefing by Deputy FM Rabbi Michael Melchior to the European Ambassadors in Israel-29-Jan-2002
Press conference marking the establishment of the International Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism – Jan 6, 2002
 Briefing by Deputy FM Rabbi Michael Melchior to the European Ambassadors in Israel-29-Jan-2002
The First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land – Jan 21, 2002