Albania hosts online Balkan anti-Semitism forum

International

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 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.

The CAM called the approval a “landmark decision” and urged other countries to join it.

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.

Regional top leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and other officials from the Balkans, Europe and the U.S. 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.

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