EUBULLETIN: Last year’s elections to the European Parliament demonstrated the sad truth that the Europeans are more and more leaning towards radical parties. The rise of such groupings has triggered strong anti-migration feelings and anti-Semitism is on rise too. What is in your opinion the main driver of such malign sentiments in the European society?
Rabbi Schudrich: Insecurity in the face of multiculturalism and multiethnic society. How can Europe maintain its unique identity with so many non-Europeans now living in Europe? It is a challenge but the answer is not by closing Europe off or by ridding Europe of non-Europeans.
EUBULLETIN: You are the chief rabbi of Poland, a country with rather poor reputation when it comes to anti-Semitism. Interestingly though, neither Poland nor other Central European countries have for a long time witnessed physical attacks on Jews. How do you explain the fact that the “epicenter” of anti-Semitism has moved to the Western European countries?
Rabbi Schudrich: We try to find calming words to explain the situation today in Western Europe but in the end it is necessary to say it in plain language: it is due to radical jihadists who (perhaps mistakenly) base themselves on Islam.
EUBULLETIN: How strong is, in your opinion, the connection or causality between the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, anti-Semitism in Europe, and the Muslim population in Europe?
Rabbi Schudrich: It is not due to the Arab-Israeli conflict (eg Charlie Hebdo). It is due to radical jihadists.
EUBULLETIN: Owing to the last summer’s conflict in the Middle East, the anti-Israeli sentiment in the European society has been on rise again. Israel has been traditionally criticized for being anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, for building the wall… Now, in the wake of the Paris attacks, some journalists begin to point out that the European tolerance might have its limits as well and that some of Israel’s “unpopular” measures might be in fact justifiable. What do you think about this?
Rabbi Schudrich: One cannot compare Israel to Europe or the U.S. Israel has the most ethical military in the world. No other military warns of a strike so that civilians can leave the area. No other military first “knocks” on the roof (small bombs landing on the roof to encourage civilians to leave the area). This does not mean that Israel never makes a mistake. But what is acceptable “collateral” damage when done by the U.S., is called war crimes when less is done by Israel.
Israel is not the one who is using children as human shields. Israel is not the one shooting rockets at civilians and shooting them from the rooftops of schools and hospitals. Israel is not the one who built dozens of tunnels to attack civilians. Perhaps the world will now understand better. I hope so. But it is doubtful since it was obvious also before.
EUBULLETIN: The attack on Charlie Hebdo has spurred not only massive marches throughout France but also massive campaign on social media “Je suis Charlie”. David Brooks, columnist of the New York Times, was brave to express his somewhat anti-mainstream opinion “I am not Charlie” claiming that the satirical newspaper like Charlie Hebdo would not last 30 seconds at the campuses of American universities – simply because it mocks other peoples’ beliefs. Where are you on the scale “I am Charlie – I am not Charlie”?
Rabbi Schudrich: I am Charlie when it comes to defending freedom of speech. I am not Charlie when it comes to ridiculing and making fun of someone’s religious belief. The challenge is how to protect freedom of speech while also being sensitive to the other. In any case, whether I am Charlie or not, it is absolutely a sin and crime to resolve the issue by murdering people. For this here is no justification.
EUBULLETIN: In December, BBC chief, Danny Cohen, said in an interview for the Times of Israel that anti-Semitism makes him question Jews’ future in the UK? Do you question Jews’ future in Europe?
Rabbi Schudrich: Jews have lived in Europe for over 2000 years. We are not leaving so quickly. The situation is tense but it is not hopeless.