Winning the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism in Europe

02/23/2015 12:52 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2016

Though some in Europe remain in denial, the recent killings of Jews in Copenhagen and Paris epitomize the resurgence of anti-Semitism across the continent. There have been other, similar killings in recent years, along with dozens of attempted ones that were thwarted, and hundreds of nonlethal attacks on people, synagogues and cemeteries. The culture of hate that surrounds these crimes extends far beyond the community of criminals and provides a kind of warped moral justification. The tragic consequence is a growing number of Jews who feel that they have no future on the continent.

Where does the hate come from? A recent study of anti-Semitism in France shows how historic European canards against Jews, which persist in traditional quarters, have been eagerly embraced by immigrant communities. Among the far right as well as the far left, a critical mass share the belief that violence committed against Jews last summer amid anti-Israel protests were "understandable," that French Jews are less "French" than other citizens and that the community holds "too much power" in media and politics. The country's Muslim citizens are twice as likely to subscribe to these views as fringe right and left-wingers. Most disturbingly, perhaps, the extent of anti-Semitism among French Muslims appears to correlate directly with the degree of their religiosity.

As a Moroccan Muslim and a frequent visitor to Paris, I feel it is especially important to grapple with the role of religion in this tragedy. In seeking to explain the killings in Copenhagen and Paris and the broader, global jihadist phenomenon, Muslims as well as non-Muslims routinely assert that groups like ISIS have "nothing to do with Islam." A recent, prominent example is French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who recently said as much to a group of Muslim citizens in the town of Lunel, from which more than ten young people had joined the ranks of ISIS. I reject the premise of his statement.

In doing so, I sleight neither my holy book, the Qur'an; nor my prophet, Muhammad. To the contrary, I am defending both from a large number of Muslim clerics, in the West as well as the Arab world, who interpret Islam and lead the faithful in prayer and contemporary life. Too many preachers who condemn ISIS, Al-Qaeda and attacks on the Jews of Europe have nonetheless contributed to the growth of these phenomena by parroting anti-Semitic and xenophobic tropes to their most impressionable followers. Far from having "nothing to do with Islam," these clerics are a crucial part of the continuum of Islamic tradition as experienced by Muslims today. The first step toward addressing the problem is to stop denying it.

Perhaps the second step is to look for examples of policies toward Islamic leadership that have helped fight the rash of anti-Semitism in sermons and religious instruction. Throughout the year leading up to the January killing spree in Paris, the French government had declined to cooperate with Morocco in matters of security, due to a diplomatic row. But after failing to prevent the carnage at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket, Paris promptly moved to restore cooperation. Now that it has done so, Cazeneuve and his peers have the opportunity to learn how an Arab kingdom has sought to fight the rash of anti-Semitism in organized religion by promoting philo-Semitism -- in hopes of drawing a lesson or two from this positive experience.

In 2003, following an Al-Qaeda-inspired triple suicide bombing in Casablanca targeting Jews and foreigners, King Muhammad VI undertook to overhaul religious preaching and education in his country as part of a broader security strategy. He identified clerics who had preached hate to their congregations, and promoted teachers of tolerance and coexistence in their stead. He fostered the mystical, Sufi strand of Islam as an alternative to "Salafi" interpretations of the faith that lent themselves to jihadist inculcation. And in addition to overseeing the training and certification of clerics, he directly engaged the general population in a celebration of Morocco's Jewish heritage.

New educational curricula have taught young people about the distinguished contribution Moroccan Jews made to the history of the country, and new festivals of sacred music highlighted the deeply intertwined roots of Judaism and Islam. He made, as well, a concerted effort to stop the outflow of the country's remaining Jewish community -- by protecting them, integrating them into the country's political and economic life, and facilitating their connection to the broader Jewish world.

The growing departure of Jewish people from France and much of Europe is a stunning indictment of the continent's social fabric, as well as its security capacities. As a matter of self-interest, the leadership of these countries should be seeking advice from around the world as to how they might stem the tide. In this respect, Morocco is one of the countries that deserves to be examined.

To be sure, the differences between Morocco and European states are many -- beginning with the fact that the monarch enjoys the unique status of the country's ranking religious authority. But as European leaders seem themselves to be weighing in on what Islam is and isn't, they may as well broaden their understanding of the faith and those who preach it within their borders.