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The global surge of antisemitic hatred triggered by the October 7th Hamas attack in Israel was the main focus of concern for the more than 150 mayors, high-level municipal leaders, diplomats, and communal leaders who gathered in Dortmund, Germany, on Wednesday for the start of the 2023 European Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism.
Participants came from more than 60 cities and 30 countries for the summit, being held under the banner of “Fostering Cultural Diversity.” The Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) is the leading organizer of the forum, working in partnership with the Jewish Community of Dortmund. Previous mayoral summits were hosted by Fort Lauderdale, Florida, earlier this month, Athens, Greece, in 2022 and Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 2021.
In remarks at Wednesday’s opening dinner, Lord Mayor of Dortmund Thomas Westphal, the chair of the summit, declared, “The message from this summit is clear — we are united by responsibility. We are responsible for protecting our Jewish community and building bridges between different cultures and regions. We have a voice against antisemitism.”
Westphal went on to say that the events of October 7th and its aftermath “not only shocked us, they reminded that our responsibility to combat antisemitism all around the world is more actual than ever before.”
“In the end of the day, we are wrong track when Jewish life becomes visible only when it’s attacked or threatened,” he noted. “Jewish life is a normal part of our city, day by day, and our responsibility is to make sure Jewish life is in the middle of our society. We have to make normal Jewish life visible. The best Jewish life is Jewish life without fear.”
Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz addressed Wednesday’s dinner in a recorded video statement.
“Since the Hamas attack, I don’t know what humanity is anymore,” Scholz said, quoting the Austrian writer and Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek. “On the 7th of October, Hamas terrorists murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and maimed innocent Israeli citizens — men and women, small children, even Holocaust survivors. With their indiscriminate brutality, with their complete disregard for human life and dignity, the terrorists also targeted humanity itself. Standing with the victims of these crimes therefore means defending humanity.”
“We stand firm against the wave of antisemitism that is sweeping through the internet and through our countries, and shamefully also through German cities and towns,” he added. “Germans perpetrated the worst crime against humanity ever committed, the Shoah. Our country bears a special responsibility to defend and protect Jewish life. That responsibility never ends. Germany stands with Israel and supports its right to defend itself against the terror unleashed by Hamas.”
Watch Chancellor Scholz’s full address here:
CAM CEO Sacha Roytman spoke about the recent desecration of the grave of his great-grandmother in a Jewish cemetery in Belgium, and recalled the story of the survival of her and other family members during the Holocaust.
Roytman emphasized his belief that mayors have a key role to play in “fighting antisemitism and building long-term city resilience against hatred.”
“As we open this summit, I have hope,” he said. “We can build a world of respect and acceptance. We can fight extremism. But it demands from us leadership, knowledge, experience, trust, zero-tolerance policies, and, most importantly, the belief we can do it.”
CAM Advisory Board Chair Natan Sharanksy said, “Today, I am coming from an Israel full of determination to fight Hamas and understanding if we don’t destroy Hamas there is no future for our state. Every day, we have to make decision to choose another day with hope another ten hostages will be released or we go back to fighting because we have to destroy this awful enemy.”
“October 7th will go into the history of Jewish programs, of which there is such a rich history,” he continued. “You have to go back to the 17th century to find something like this.”
Zwi Rappoport, chair of the Board of the Jewish Community of Dortmund, told the audience, “Jewish life here in Dortmund is flourishing again, since the 1990s, when Jewish immigrants from the countries of the former Soviet Union came to Germany. After the Holocaust, this astonishing development of Jewish life in Germany seemed unthinkable. But this kind of miracle actually happened.”
“Today, however, we are facing new challenges,” he said. “In our Jewish communities across Europe, Jews are voicing a similar refrain. We live in a different world from the one we knew before the 7th of October. Across Europe, the huge increase of antisemitic incidents has heated up an atmosphere of fear and motivated some people to hide their Jewish identity. All reports show us that European Jews are facing a new era of antisemitism.”
Deputy Mayor of Paris Marie-Christine Lemardeley said, “Antisemitism is not the problem of Jews, it’s the problem of humanity, and as elected officials it is our responsibility to commit to eradicate antisemitism.”
“Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was keen for the city of Paris to be represented today to demonstrate our full commitment to the fight against antisemitism and related forms of discrimination,” Lemardeley added. “Paris is a city built by, for, and with Jewish culture. It was shaped by Jewish history and today is brimming with the memory of culture left behind.”
“The prominence given to Parisian and Jewish history contribute to the cultural richness of Paris, but unfortunately attracts antisemitic attacks,” she pointed out. “Jewish communities continue to suffer from these antisemitic acts. The terrorist attackers of October 7th triggered a massive return of antisemitic acts in Paris. Antisemitism was already present in an insidious way, but October 7th made it worse.”
Dr. Gil Yaron, head of the Office of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia for Economy, Science, Education, Youth and Culture in Israel, said, “Today, there is nowhere safe in the world. Antisemitism has increased everywhere. So where is it safe for Jews? We will only be able to rest when the answer to this centuries-old conundrum is that it is safe for Jews everywhere, both inside and outside Israel.”
“When we protect Jews, we aren’t just protecting Jews,” he stated. “We are protecting all of us. I’m not appealing today to your sense of consideration or solidarity, I’m appealing to your self-preservation.”
Natalie Sanandaji, a young American Jewish survivor of the Nova music festival massacre on October 7th, recounted the harrowing ordeal she endured that day as she fled for her life with a group of friends.
“October 7th was the greatest tragedy experienced by the Jewish people since the Holocaust which took place here in Europe more than eight decades ago, and while I’ve given many speeches and interviews over the past month and a half, sharing my story here at this important gathering in Germany has a special meaning for me,” Sanandaji — who started working for CAM as a public affairs officer after returning from Israel — said. “Never again is now, and I will do everything I can to ensure that no Jew has to suffer what I, and so many others who are no longer with us, went through on that dreadful day.”
We’re excited to kick off the highly anticipated 2023 European Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism in the vibrant city of Dortmund, Germany!https://t.co/PRV3EaQb1A#MayorsAgainstAntisemitism #MayorSummitDortmund pic.twitter.com/QElQCK4L5S
— Combat Antisemitism Movement (@CombatASemitism) November 29, 2023
The European Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism is the third forum CAM has organized this month, following summits for Latin American officials in Montevideo, Uruguay, about Latin America-Israel relations, and for North American mayors in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, about combating antisemitism at the local level.
During the summit, mayors will participate in panels and discussions focused on a broad array of relevant topics, including:
- The importance of the translation of national strategies against antisemitism to the local level
- The use of public space against antisemitism
- Interfaith and intercultural relations
- The role of sports clubs in combating hate
- Preservation of Jewish heritage and culture
The mayors will also help craft an updated municipal action plan to fight religious bigotry and secure and nurture Jewish life in their cities. The original plan was unveiled at the Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism in Athens, Greece, last year.
For more information on the 2023 European Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism’s program and speakers, please visit: europeanmayors.combatantisemitism.org