The congressional committee charged with overseeing U.S. representatives in a key international human rights organization met Tuesday to highlight the continued threat to Jewish communities in Europe.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the U.S. Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, opened the session.
“The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels were reminders that Europeans of all religions and ethnicities are at risk from ISIS,” he said. “But there can be no European security without Jewish security. As we have seen so many times in so many places, violence against Jewish communities often foreshadows violence against other religious, ethnic and national communities. ISIS especially hates the Jewish people and has instructed its followers to prioritize killing them.”
Violence and anti-Semitic rhetoric, chiefly from radical elements in Western Europe’s exploding population of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, has been steadily on the rise for decades. Attacks on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in May 2014, a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015 and the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen in February 2015 gained far broader consensus as to the lethal nature of the threat.
“In the span of two decades, we’ve moved from swastikas on buildings, the desecration of graveyards and simple assaults as well as long-standing institutionalized anti-Semitism to brutal violence, commando-style shooting attacks and even suicide bombings on the streets of Europe by battlefield-trained terrorist cells and organizations,” said Paul Goldenberg, a member of several anti-terrorism committees, as well as a leader in the Belgian Jewish community’s crisis center.
Members of the committee questioned experts and those with first-hand experience in European Jewish communities to identify key failures in law enforcement that have allowed the situation to deteriorate to this dangerous point. One recurring theme was a dearth of engagement and coordination between authorities and local Muslim communities. Witnesses said this would prove an essential factor, both in preventing planned attacks and leading youth away from the path of violent extremism.
John J. Farmer Jr., of Rutgers University, spoke of the importance of what the FBI has termed an “off ramp” to radicalization. The strategy, which he said has been used effectively in the U.S., gives parents and community figures tools and support in leading young people away from association with terror groups and the influence of Islamist propaganda.
The CSCE conducts training for law enforcement personnel and focuses on hate crime prevention in accordance with the Helsinki Accords, which call for greater efforts in the promotion of human rights. Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Hamodia that while hearings in Washington might seem far from the realities of life in Paris and Brussels, the CSCE allows such efforts to have a ripple effect throughout official channels in Europe.
“It’s important to keep reminding Europe of the importance of keeping up funding and training programs and not to bury facts about hate against Jews.”
Weitzman said that while recent attacks have targeted the general population, terror remains an even greater concern for Jewish communities.
“While [radical Islamic groups] certainly have a clear anti-Western agenda, all you have to do is look at their propaganda to see that Jews are picked out more than other targets. There’s no doubt that there’s a distinctive threat [against] Jews and we want to make sure that [European governments] take that seriously.”