That anti-Semitism in Europe is escalating is beyond dispute. What remains less clear, however, is how, and who, to approach in dealing with this frightening new reality.
The American Jewish Committee — which meets regularly with world leaders to discuss issues such as this — has launched an initiative targeting local officials, bringing the concerns of American mayors to their counterparts in Europe.
According to John Rosen, AJC’s New Jersey regional director, the organization has taken up the suggestion of the mayor of Newton, Mass., to circulate a statement to leaders of European communities, decrying anti-Semitism and urging that local leaders take action against it.
In the statement, signatories “call upon mayors, municipal leaders, and other officials in Europe to join us in affirming that anti-Semitism is not compatible with fundamental democratic values.” The document adds that “in a world of global communications, where anti-Semitic ideas can and do spread quickly, the impact of the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe does not stop at Europe’s borders.”
Volunteers are working through AJC’s 22 regions to encourage American mayors to participate in the initiative. So far, 259 mayors, representing 67 million Americans, have signed on. This includes 25 New Jersey mayors. Eight are from our area: Paul Aronsohn of Ridgewood, Steven M. Fulop of Jersey City, John C. Glidden, Jr. of Closter, Jeffrey R. Goldsmith of Woodcliff Lake, Frank Huttle III of Englewood, Lizette P. Parker of Teaneck, Peter S. Rustin of Tenafly, and Mark J. Sokolich of Fort Lee.
The Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism project comes on the heels of AJC’s strategy conference, “A Defining Moment for Europe,” held in Brussels in May. At that gathering, which Mr. Rosen said drew representatives from virtually every European nation, AJC released a detailed plan for European governments to fight the growing problem.
“In Europe we’re in a position to deal with anti-Semitism,” Mr. Rosen said, crediting “amazing connections” with world leaders. While AJC ordinarily does not deal with leaders at the mayoral level, he called it a “useful tool, especially in large cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin. It can make a difference. Mayors can be vocal on this issue,” whether making public statements, working on behalf of targeted legislation, engaging with the Muslim community, or addressing security concerns.
“We’ve found that Americans in general have a lot of clout with Europeans,” Mr. Rosen said. “A letter with enough signatures and representing enough Americans can have a lot of clout. It can say to European mayors not only that this is unacceptable, but that we’re watching what’s going on.
“We also tell them that this is not just about the Jews. If this continues, it threatens European values and culture. Europe, as we know it, is being threatened. It’s not a change in demographics but in values.”
Europeans don’t know how to deal with their Muslim populations, he said. AJC is “holding a spotlight to it, not just saying ‘you have a problem’ but providing solutions.”
While anti-Semitic hate crimes are on the rise in the United States as well, Mr. Rosen said — a situation that the Anti-Defamation League monitors — “what’s going on in Europe is very different than it is here. We know that because the directors of our European offices are Jews. They are dealing with this through the AJC and they are living it. Their kids go to Jewish schools.”
“There are sections of France where even the police don’t go,” he said, pointing to the “inability of European governments to deal with out-of-control Muslim populations.” In addition, he said, “ultra-liberal” groups have formed an alliance antithetical to Israel, and are unable to separate that from their dealings with the Jewish community.
Regarding the mayor-to-mayor initiative, Mr. Rosen said the effort to recruit American mayors is being spearheaded by volunteers with connections to particular local officials. “In no case has any mayor not responded positively,” he said. “It’s just a matter of access.”
The signed statement was meant to be presented at an international conference of mayors in London this fall.
“For some reason, it was canceled or postponed,” Mr. Rosen said. “I don’t know how it will be presented. If there are forums for mayors, it will be presented there. Otherwise, it will be delivered to mayors of top municipalities.”
While signatories to the letter include both Jews and non-Jews, at least three local mayors said because they are Jewish, the issue appears in even sharper relief.
Tenafly’s Mayor Peter Rustin said he signed the statement because “first and foremost, as a Jew, I’m appalled and disappointed over the rise of anti-Semitism throughout the entire world.” But, he added, “beyond the fact that it makes our lives less comfortable, anything that can be done to diminish anti-Semitism would be beneficial to the peace process in the Middle East. It plays a huge part in the lack of progress.”
Mr. Rustin said that targeting mayors is a good idea, because “anytime you can get leaders to promote a movement, it’s a positive step for that movement. It moves it forward. Mayors can bring people together.”
Ridgewood’s Mayor Paul Aronsohn said he thinks it is important “for all of us, mayor and citizens, to speak out against anti-Semitism. It’s particularly important for community leaders. Anti-Semitic incidents are occurring throughout the world and in our country as well. It’s not just about Jews. Hatred is like a virus, a cancer.”
“It is absolutely critical for community leaders everywhere to make clear — in both words and actions — that anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry are wrong and must not be tolerated. We need to not only talk the talk against anti-Semitism, we need to walk the walk. That’s true here in New Jersey. That’s true anywhere else in the world.
“I’d like European mayors who stand against anti-Semitism to know that they are not alone and that we stand with them.”
For Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City, the issue of anti-Semitism is even more personal.
“As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I know how important it is to be a voice against bigotry whenever it surfaces — and no matter whom it surfaces against,” he wrote in an email. “That’s what this is about.”