February 20, 2014 – Brussels – AJC’s Transatlantic Institute (TAI) celebrated its tenth anniversary with a gala dinner in Brussels. The evening was a celebration of the vital importance of the relationship between Europe and the U.S. "We are here tonight to celebrate our shared values," AJC TAI Director Daniel Schwammenthal told the audience of more than 250. Dozens of members of the European Parliament, ambassadors to the European Union and Belgium, Jewish leaders from across Europe, and civil society partners, as well as AJC leaders from across the U.S., joined in the festive evening.
Launching TAI in 2004 fulfilled a vision of AJC, the global advocacy organization, to establish a permanent presence in the political and administrative center of the European Union.
"As a global agency, AJC conceived of the TAI in 2003, at a time of tension between some European countries and the U.S.," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. "The concept became a reality because of the visionary support of Rhoda Baruch and her late husband, Jordan."
Accompanied by her children and grandchildren, Rhoda was presented with a special gift from AJC in gratitude for her family’s continuing and exceptional commitment to the TAI mission.
One key issue on the TAI agenda is growing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. “Hate crimes are a growing problem in Europe,” Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said in her keynote address. “It is time for the EU and its Member States to act firmly against it.” Commissioner Malmström's portfolio includes migration and anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of prejudice.
The EU has reported a rise in hate crimes against gays, Muslims, and Jews. But the commissioner made special reference to manifestations of anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitic hate crime was experienced by one in every four Jews in Europe,” according to a recent EU survey, she said. “Young Jews are afraid to go to school, even in my own country of Sweden.”
Preventing and combating hate crimes requires political leadership that all too often is not adequate, she said. “Hate crimes affect us all, no matter where we are from or where we live and work,” said Malmström. The 28 EU Member States "must act to prevent intolerance from turning into violent hate crime.”
Pointing out that concrete actions are more important than political statements to effectively combat hate, the commissioner shared several of her office’s initiatives.
The EU Radicalization Awareness Network, established in 2011, has more than 700 experts across Europe, working on preventive action by educating youths about misuse of the internet and encouraging them to think critically about bigoted material.
Malmström also pointed out the urgent need to “rebuild trust in the police,” after a survey last year revealed that many hate crimes go unreported because “victims do not feel anything will happen.”
Notwithstanding tight budgets in European countries, all EU Member States are "obliged to ensure that hate crimes are investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted," she added.
Other speakers at the gala included Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders; Francois-Xavier de Donnea, Chair of the Belgian Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee; Israeli Ambassador to the EU David Walzer; and the U.S. Acting Chief of Mission to the EU Robert Wood.
"Transatlantic cooperation today is vibrant, and the AJC Transatlantic Institute is making an important contribution to the strengthening of this relationship," said Donnea.
Earlier in the day, AJC President Stanley Bergman led a small delegation to meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. They discussed, among other issues, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and rising European anti-Semitism.
In a separate session, the large AJC delegation was briefed on current EU foreign policy priorities by Ambassador Pierre Vimont, Executive Secretary General of the European External Action Service.
The AJC group also visited the European Parliament to discuss EU-Israel Relations and the Iranian nuclear threat, as well as challenges confronting Jewish students on campuses across Europe with the leadership of the Brussels-based European Union of Jewish Students.