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AJC's Rabbi Andrew Baker to Testify in Congress on Rising Anti-Semitism in Europe

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC's director of International Jewish Affairs, is set to warn Members of Congress that growing threats to Jews, requiring increased security, "pose an existential threat to the future of Jewish life in Europe."

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20100816/AJCLOGO)

Baker will testify Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ), chair of the subcommittee and co-chair of the House Bipartisan Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, called the hearing amidst reports of spikes in anti-Semitic violence in a number of European countries.

"Some governments willfully do not want to know, and they have limited their monitoring tools so that they will not be confronted with the facts," Baker says in his prepared remarks. "This may be a reflection of political correctness or a fear that such data are likely to increase anti-Muslim sentiments. Either way they contribute to the problem."

Such hesitancy contravenes the commitments governments made with the adoption of the Berlin Declaration by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2004. The OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization, with 57 member states from Europe, Central Asia and North America.

Governments that have made efforts to address these threats against Jewish communities and individuals will be highlighted at an upcoming OSCE conference, slated for April. "Hesitant governments will be pressed to follow suit," said Baker.

Baker, who has served for more than five years as the OSCE chair's personal representative on combating anti-Semitism, is uniquely positioned to understand and address the problems. He has traveled extensively across Europe, consulting regularly with senior government officials, as well as Jewish communal leaders.

For Baker, time is of the essence. He calls the ascendancy of right-wing, populist political parties, which have garnered at least 10-15 percent of the vote, a "new cause for alarm." In his testimony Baker singles out Golden Dawn in Greece, Svoboda in Ukraine, and Jobbik in Hungary, which have threatened Jewish communities in their respective countries. Golden Dawn also has aggressively assailed AJC.

Although they are minority parties, Baker stresses that "they already exert an influence beyond their numbers." He reports that Greek and Ukrainian legislators face intimidation from representatives of extremist parties that sit in the same parliaments. In Hungary FIDESZ members close to the government leadership issue racist and anti-Semitic broadsides.

The U.S. House hearing takes place a week after the French Jewish community presented to France's prime minister its annual report on anti-Semitic incidents. It showed a startling increase of 58 percent during 2012.

Astonishingly, following the brutal terrorist murder of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse last March, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in France jumped. "Rather than generating awareness and sympathy, there was instead support and identification with the anti-Semitic murderer," who happened to be a radical Islamist, says Baker.

The Toulouse attack was another tragic reminder that those responsible for the recent increases in anti-Semitic incidents in France and elsewhere in Western Europe "largely come from parts of the Arab and Muslim communities," says Baker. This threat is in addition to, and at times more grave, than the attacks from right-wing, neo-Nazi groups.

"The French Jewish community is not alone in its need to address an increasing security threat," Baker warns. "Physical attacks and threats directed toward persons and property are now a part of daily life. Synagogues, schools and community centers have been refitted with secure entryways and sidewalk barriers."

Baker cautioned that investing in needed security measures "is a formidable challenge" for small communities with limited budgets. "The 1000 Jews of Oslo, Norway, and the 1000 Jews who live in Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast, may be geographically at opposite ends of the European map, but both communities are spending an inordinate share of their budgets simply to try to keep their members physically safe," he said.

Baker called on the House committee to press European members of the OSCE to confront head-on the groups in their own societies that are threatening Jewish communities and institutions, and to ensure that adequate protection is provided so that Jews can continue to practice their faith and live their lives without fear.

Baker's OSCE reports on Hungary, Norway, Spain and Sweden are appended to his testimony.

SOURCE American Jewish Committee

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