In May 2007 a small group of religious leaders met, in the EU headquarters in Brussels, with the three most significant leaders of Europe: Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and at the time president of the European Council, Jose-Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament.
The meeting was one of those semiformal occasions at which little is said, and a great deal of time taken in saying it. Concerned at the return of antisemitism to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust, I decided that the time had come to break protocol and speak plainly, even bluntly.
I gave the shortest speech of my life. Sitting directly opposite the three leaders I said this. “Jews and Europe go back a long way. The experience of Jews in Europe has added several words to the human vocabulary – words like expulsion, public disputation, forced conversion, inquisition, auto-da-fe, blood libel, ghetto and pogrom, without even mentioning the word Holocaust. That is the past. My concern is with the future. Today the Jews of Europe are asking whether there is a future for Jews in Europe, and that should concern you, the leaders of Europe.”
It took less than a minute, and after it there was a shocked silence. We adjourned for lunch, and over it Angela Merkel asked, “What would you like me to do, Chief Rabbi?” I did not have an easy answer for her then. I do now. It is: reverse immediately the decision of the Cologne court that renders Jewish parents who give their son a brit milah, even if performed in hospital by a qualified doctor, liable to prosecution.