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Muslim-majority Albania hosts first ever Balkan anti-Semitism forum

At online conference organized by US and Israeli groups, Albanian PM calls anti-Semitism ‘a threat to our own civilization’

Israeli Ambassador in Albania Noah Gal Gendler speaks during the inauguration of a Holocaust memorial in Tirana, on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Xhulio Hajdari /Tirana City Hall via AP)
Israeli Ambassador in Albania Noah Gal Gendler speaks during the inauguration of a Holocaust memorial in Tirana, on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Xhulio Hajdari /Tirana City Hall via AP)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania held an online forum against anti-Semitism Wednesday, the first time such a meeting has been staged in the Balkans, with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama calling anti-Semitism “a threat to our own civilization.”

The Balkans Forum Against Anti-Semitism was organized by Albania’s Parliament in partnership with the New York-based Combat Anti-Semitism Movement (CAM) and the Jewish Agency for Israel. It was held online due to the virus pandemic.

“We need to continue and fight any form of anti-Semitism, which is a threat to our own civilization … upon which our common future is being built,” Rama said.

Last week Albania’s parliament unanimously approved the definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which describes hate speech and other acts that discriminate against the Jewish people or the state, their properties or religious objects.

CAM called the approval, the first by a Muslim-majority country, a “landmark decision” and urged other countries to join it.

The IHRA definition has been adopted by many Western countries, though some have objected to its inclusion of some forms of criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

Wednesday’s forum aimed at creating “a united front among the Balkans to act collectively against anti-Semitism, including the removal of hatred and bigotry from our discourse, creating a more tolerant Europe,” organizers said in their invitation.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama makes a statement with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias after their meeting in Tirana, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

Regional top leaders, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials from the Balkans, Europe and the US took part.

“Let’s continue to make sure that people of all faiths can live and flourish side by side in peace,” Pompeo said in his speech.

Albania boasts that during world War II it was the only country where no Jews were killed or handed over to the Nazis and their numbers increased from 600 before the war to more than 2,000 by its end. Albanians protected Jewish residents, and helped other Jews who fled from Germany, Austria and other countries by either smuggling them abroad or hiding them.

Nazi German forces occupied Albania from September 1943 until November 1944, when they were pushed out by local communist partisans.

A small Jewish community living in Albania left the country for Israel just after the fall of the communist regime in 1991.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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