Christians, Jews and Muslims united against all forms of Extremism: an international forum of experts reports on antisemitism today

In introducing the last of a three day international conference on Anti-Semitism organized in Rome by Robert Hassan, Director for Europe of ISGAP (Institute for the study of Global Antisemitism and Policy), ISGAP’s Executive Director Charles Small referred to Elie Wiesel’s conviction that “Anti-Semitism begins with Jews but never ends with Jews”.

 “Today”, said Small, “Anti-Semitism targets Jews as a people . The demonization of Israel has entered universities. The Muslim Brotherhood – represented under different names all over the European continent as well as in the U.S. and the Middle East – is in many areas distributing ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, the Czarist libel originally used as ‘false news’ (as we would say today) to increment Nazi propaganda that accused Jews of plotting to overtake the world!” Again referring to Elie Wiesel, Dr. Small recalled the Nobel Prize winner’s warning that “the Holocaust began with words.”


The topic of the concluding day was, “Antisemitism as a Strategic Threat to Europe”, significantly underlining its universal danger. It was hosted by the Italian Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies – ironically and with fortuitous historic justice, in the “Queens Room” – in the very room where Italy’s anti-Semitic laws were unanimously passed in 1938. The session’s proceedings were skillfully moderated by parliamentarian Gea Schiro, a member of the Chamber of Deputies’ European Affairs Commission as well as of the Italy-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association. The preceding two days of conferences were held respectively at “La Sapienza”- the University of Rome, on “Anti-Semitism as a Gateway to Terrorism” and at the Pontifical “ Augustinianum” Institute, on “Antisemitism and Minority Rights in the Middle East – Regional and International Implications”.

Tony Blair, the UK’s former Prime Minister, who had come to Rome especially for the occasion, delivered the opening speech. With vibrant support of Israel and passionate denouncement of the return of antisemitism even in his own party, he pointed a finger at the BDS movement (“Boycott, Disinvest, Sanction Israel”) as seriously transgressing the boundaries of legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies and thereby fomenting antisemitism. At the end of the session, the whole group led by Tony Blair was received in private audience by Pope Francis.

A “happening” during that first morning set the harmonious tone of the conference. When Sheikh Muostafa Rashed Abou Abdalla, President of the World Union of Islamic Scholars for Peace and the Islamic Centers of Australia and New Zealand found himself bereft of an Arabic language translator, another speaker, Mordechai Kedar, a Jewish academic expert on the Israeli Arab population who served for 25 years in Israel’s IDF Military Intelligence, volunteered to stand beside the Sheikh as his personal translator.

There was essential agreement between all who spoke, over and beyond their ethnic and religious diversities. They were Muslims, Christians, and Jews originating from Nigeria, Iraq (of Yazidi ethnicity), Egypt, Israel, Britain, U.S.A., Italy, etc.

All speakers seemed to focus on the danger posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, who, according to Erich Trager, an expert on Egyptian politics, are “losers, rejected by the majority of Muslims in Europe, but remain a peripheral entity that needs to be kept on the sidelines”.

There seemed to be a consensus on the following conclusions:

1) The Muslim Brotherhood, actually quite small and not representative of European Islam, is however, the most efficient propagator of Islamist ideas said Mordechai Kedar. Widely spread out and excellently organized, it projects a false mainstream image. It constitutes a tiny minority of Europe’s 56.52 million Muslims (amounting to 7.66% of Europe’s total population of 739.69 million people according to 2016 statistics).

While ISIS is disintegrating, its ideology survives, said Mordechai Kedar. It aims at destroying European civilization along with Israel, and replacing both with a caliphate on this continent and in the Middle East, subverting minds to anti-western and anti-European ideology and aiming at making Jerusalem its capital, he said. The Brotherhood, along with other groups espousing the Shariah adopt an aggressive, Salafite interpretation of the Koran dating back to an old Saudi translation which completely transforms the authentic text in Arabic, said Haras Rafiq, Ceo OF Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism organization. The day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket in Paris, said Dina Lisnyanski, an academic and security expert on Islamic culture, “90 Salafite mosques were closed while private Muslim Brotherhood schools remained open, “preaching hatred” and the FIOE (Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe) was preaching the founding of a new homeland for Islam in Europe (i.e. and Islamic State). Weapons were found in homes in St. Denis and Clichy sur Bois.

2) A major problem is the financing of mosques in Europe with funds coming from Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as from European governments. Lorenzo Vidino, head of the New Radicalization and International Terrorism Program of ISPI, reported on the situation in Austria where the Muslim Brotherhood, representing Austrian Islam, receives funds supplied by the country’s generous laws supporting Austria’s official national religious communities, in addition to contributions from Qatar.

3) The target of anti-Semitic Jihadist groups is western civilization itself, plus those Muslims who do not conform to the Shariah, as well as Jews, Christians, and all other “infidels”. Their unified aim necessitates wiping Israel off the map to make Jerusalem the capital of a Middle East caliphate. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is the war cry of supporters of the BDS movement, nominally calling for boycotting Israel to end its “occupation” over Palestinians – but actually indicating a new Islamist geopolitical setup for the entirety of Israel/Palestine that would eliminate all non-believers – meaning Jews, Christians, secular people and “westernized” Muslims.

4) Not much was said specifically about “good practice” aside from investment in education and integration and increasing awareness of the strategies at work. However, the story of one successful action to keep the BDS movement at bay was reported by Attorney Gabriel Groisman, Mayor of Bal Harbour in Florida, who won an anti-BDS ordinance in his town requiring “any entity that enters into a contract with Bal Harbour to certify that they are not boycotting, and will not boycott, or divest from a legitimate, recognized U.S. trade partner.” The positive transformation of opinion, he recalled, can be read in the town’s history. “Only as late as 1984” he recalled, “Bal Harbour repealed a long-standing law forbidding Jewish ownership of homes.”

5) Antisemitism is a byproduct, but also a unifying and useful scapegoat employed to further the Islamist goal, politically supported by Europe’s Extreme Left as well as its Extreme Right, aiming at the building of this new Islamist utopia. Much anti-Israel propaganda that feeds on anti-Semitism is based on outright lies – or “false news”, said Ben Dror Yemeni, a prominent Israeli journalist. Some examples he mentioned were those of “equating Israelis to Nazis…calling Israel ‘a child-murdering community ‘…accusing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as the main cause of world violence…and on and on.” David Harris the CEO of AJC (American Jewish Committee) recently stated that, “trifocal lenses” are needed to confront antisemitism – we must look in three directions – the far left, the far right, and the Jihadists.” Quillam’s CEO Haras Rafiq, in line with the overall consensus of the speakers, warned his prediction that these different forms of radicalization “linked by anti-Semitism and especially by conspiracy theories” will, twenty years from now, lead to Islamism’s being overshadowed by the Far Left and the Far Right, unified by a common antisemitism.

Noemi Di Segni, President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, sent a message expressing her regret at being unable to come personally to the three day meeting but fully identifying with its contents. She also pointed out that “the threat of antisemitism does not concern only Jews but the survival of a democratic Europe, the future social cohabitation on our continent and beyond, which, it pains us to admit, is today again endangered.” She also identified the three “masks” of current anti-Semitism as, again, coming from Islamist terrorism, the Extreme Left and the Extreme Right. She mentioned the importance of the European Parliament’s having adopted the IHRA “Definition of Antisemitism” to be used by European countries to combat these “masks” and promote education that will produce a bulwark “against all forms of intolerance, racism and antisemitism.”



Promoting tolerance, an islamic leader’s mission: the Secretary General of the Muslim World League delivers a message of tolerance to interreligious groups in Rome

Prof. Mohammad Ben Abd ul-Karim Al-Issa, who was named Secretary General of the Muslim World League over a year ago and was formerly the Saudi Arabian Kingdom’s Minister of Justice and head of the Supreme Council for Justice, addressed over 400 invited guests at a reception and dinner held at the Hilton in Rome on September 20 before a papal audience and meetings with Italian government officials in following days. The audience was composed of 100 Italian Imams plus delegates of religious associations active in interreligious dialogue in Italy and internationally.

The conference room was divided into two sections with the “VIP” representatives of Italian Islamic and interreligious groups at tables nearest the speakers, and the 100 imams further back, separated by a stretched out ribbon. Among the groups were delegates of major Italian Muslim organizations such as COREIS and UCOII, and representative associations of immigrants from Morocco, Bangladesh, etc; Catholic organizations engaged in interreligious dialogue such as the Community of Sant’Egidio, the John Paul II Center, the Focolare movement; AJC (the American Jewish Committee); and the international, interreligious NGO – Religions for Peace (Italian section).


Surrounding Prof. Al-Issa on the speakers platform were Catholic, Jewish and Muslim speakers: Imam Alsheikh Mizanur Rahman, who invoked the opening prayer, Msgr. Miguel Ayuso Guixot, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; rav Joseph Levi, the former Chief Rabbi of Florence; Dr. Abdulaziz Sarhan, the Director of the MWL’s Italian office; Salah Ramadan, the Imam of Rome’s Grand Mosque, and Prof. Abdellah Reduane, Director of Italy’s Islamic Cultural Center. A chair, unfortunately left vacant on the platform because of failed communications, was meant to host Franca Eckert Coen, Vice President of Religions for Peace/Italy

Notably, another leader of the Italian Jewish Community, Rome’s Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, also came to greet the new MWL leader in a public gesture of good will, joining the speakers for the final photographs.

It was a significant group of people, meant to project the Secretary General’s hopes of conveying an image of Islam as a religion of tolerance and moderation, to contrast the ever-growing “islamophobic” fears that perceive Islam as a religion of violence and terrorism and of Sharia, rigidly interpreted as Islamic Law, as a threat to western civilization.

MWL Secretary General Al-Issa delivered an impassioned speech in which he emphasized what he called Islam’s true values, with “tolerance” topping the list. “The acceptance of the diversity of others is a Divine Law willed by God, to give us the possibility of being different and discovering our own paths to righteousness” he declared.

He commented that “If we were all alike, the earth would be populated by angels. We may not have the same views but that does not mean that we are enemies. To expect conformity is madness.” To illustrate Islam’s tolerance of diversity, he referred to “all religions, including paganism.”

“Islam never advocates aggressive wars”, he said, but “resorts to war, historically, only for self-defense.” He spoke out against aggressive and authoritarian attitudes, condemning the use of force in religion or against whoever changes his religion and exalting the right of religious of freedom. “The Koran”, he said, “clearly instructs us to treat non-Muslims well and to provide food even for our enemies. Mercy is the highest value of the law of tolerance.”

An interesting, rather original approach to history and its use was expressed by the WML Secretary General in the context of a search for effective peace-making. “We must turn the page”, he said. “All religions, nations, races have committed errors in interpretations of their holy texts. The past is past, and we can no longer hold ourselves responsible for this past. Instead of always referring to the painful events of history, we need our memories to stress that which gives us honor. These values should be taught to our children. There is not only evil in our present period of history; it also contains much good – with examples that could serve to turn minds away from committing acts of terrorism. Extremists fear ideological war more than they fear weapons. Extremism is based on models of thought that must be eradicated on an ideological level, and not through further violence or war.”

Asked by “Vatican Insider” for a comment, Imam Yahya Pallavicini, President of COREIS (Italian Islamic Religious Community) said, “the Secretary General of the Muslim World League has sought to interpret the necessity for renewal in Islam’s responsibility for dialogue, tolerance and human rights. This represents a great challenge and requires coherence and concreteness.”

Prof. Al-Issa’s co-speakers, in their introductory speeches, pointed briefly to significant current interreligious issues. Msgr. Al-Ayuso Quixot emphasized the need to respect the value of freedom of thought, which includes, in particular, the freedom of religion, plus the safeguarding of human rights as “valid for all places, all times, on all occasions”. He also stressed the importance of dialogue for furthering peace. Dr. Abdellah Redouane urged the reopening of talks between the Italian State and its Islamic communities regarding the achievement of a national Agreement (Intesa), modeled on those already existing with other religions in Italy. Rabbi Levi expressed hopes for accelerating interreligious cooperation, recalling the past contributions of Jewish and Islamic scholars who made the great thinkers of antiquity available to Western culture through their translations. “This should provide encouragement for us today”, he said. He also remarked on the fortuitous coincidence of the celebrations for the Muslim and Jewish New Year falling on the same date (September 21) this year.

The evening ended with very positive reciprocal expressions of friendship. However, for the sake of journalistic objectivity, we must make mention of an embarrassing incident. To aid guests with further information on the important new mission of the MWL, reading material was handed out, including the August-September issue of “The Muslim World League Journal”. Amidst its interesting articles the Journal also contains a problematic first page entitled “Letter from the editor – The Closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque”, announced on the cover as “Attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem: Islamic view”, that contains a rather one-sided report on a recent crisis when Israel briefly closed the Mosque and then required worshippers to pass through electronic controls before entering.

The Journal’s editor makes no mention of the reason for Israel’s temporary, restrictive orders, which were only a direct, immediate reaction to an attack by 3 armed Arab-Israeli terrorists (subsequently themselves shot), who killed 2 Israeli guards (of Druse ethnicity) outside the Mosque on July 13. The longstanding desire of Christians, Jews and Muslims for peaceful cohabitation in this beloved area of the world, considered sacred by many, would surely have been better served had the editor included all relevant facts – the cause, as well as the subsequent solution of this tragic incident.

Lisa Palmieri Billig (Vatican Insider)





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