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OSCE: Berlin Conference Pledges To Fight Anti-Semitism

  • Jeffrey Donovan

A two-day international conference on anti-Semitism that concluded today in Berlin comes as a new EU report says attacks on Jews have increased in several member states, including a six-fold rise in France.

29 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Paris and Berlin, Vienna and London, Antwerp, Lyon, and Lausanne.

Besides being picturesque centers of European culture and learning, what else do these cities have in common?

How about this: In 2003, all seven cities saw incidents in which Jews -- mostly the elderly, or women and children -- were beaten and Jewish schools or synagogues firebombed.

That fact, from a recent study by Tel Aviv University, is among several telling figures and reports suggesting a rising trend of attacks on Jews in Europe to emerge from a two-day international forum on anti-Semitism that concluded today in Berlin, once the capital of Nazi Germany.

"If we tell you that the signals we receive are disturbing, that we are alarmed...people had better listen." -- Elie Wiesel
Addressing the conference, which was attended by delegates from 55 countries and organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "Today, we confront the ugly reality that anti-Semitism is not just a fact of history, but a current event. Indeed, we're appalled that in recent years the incidence of anti-Semitic hate crimes has been on the increase within our community of democratic nations. All of us recognize that we must take decisive measures to reverse this disturbing trend."

The aim of the conference was to agree on ways to counter anti-Jewish violence and propaganda. Fifty states pledged today to suppress the growing tide of anti-Semitism and agreed that the violent Middle East conflict could never justify attacks on Jews.

The conference came just a few days after the European Union issued a report that said attacks on Jews increased in several EU states in 2002 from 2001, with the sharpest rise in France, where incidents increased six-fold.

The other countries cited for high increases in attacks were the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The 344-page document found anti-Semitic discourse to be "particularly virulent" in Austria, Italy, Spain, and Greece.

Another report, by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University, showed that incidents of attacks remained high in 2003 across Western Europe.

But the findings of the EU report by the Vienna-based European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) remain controversial. Critics say the report adequately documents the problem of anti-Semitism in Europe but fails to accurately identify its main culprits.

The report says the largest group of perpetrators of anti-Jewish attacks is made up of "young, disaffected white Europeans," many of whom were identified as "skinheads." The second-largest group comprised "young Muslims of North African or Asian extraction."

Yet the EUMC last year decided not to release a similar report that blamed the attacks mostly on young Muslims -- not on white Europeans. Why the discrepancy?

Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary of the Paris-based European Jewish Council, told RFE/RL he believes the first EUMC report was suppressed because European governments did not want to acknowledge that they have a large constituency of disaffected Muslims who are increasingly turning to violence, whether to express their political views or for other reasons.

"For the few people who really read both reports, it is quite clear that the facts are the same," Cwajgenbaum said. "What is different is the interpretation. And I must say it's total nonsense and it's even a lie to try and make people believe that the majority of the anti-Semitic attacks today occur from the extreme right and white people. It's a total nonsense."

Still, participants at the Berlin conference broadly agreed that political tensions in the Middle East are mostly to blame for the rise in attacks on Jews in Europe.

The most emotional appeal in Berlin came from Nazi death camp survivor Elie Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his writings on the Holocaust and campaigning against evils in the world.

Wiesel implored delegates: "Stop! Stop a disease that has lasted so long. Stop the poison from spreading. The Jew I am belongs to a traumatized generation. We have antennas. Better yet, we are antennas. If we tell you that the signals we receive are disturbing, that we are alarmed...people had better listen."

Another report, by the Anti-Defamation League, concluded on 26 April that anti-Semitic views are in fact waning in many European countries -- but distrust of Israel was rising.

Speaking to the meeting yesterday, German President Johannes Rau blamed the rise in attacks mostly on "racists" who had seized on the Middle East conflict and the policies of the Israeli government.

"Everybody knows that massive anti-Semitism has been behind some of the criticism of Israeli government policies in the past decades," Rau. "This criticism must be treated with special attention. This regards both individual voices and, unfortunately, states and groups of states."

But while delegates broadly agreed more must be done against anti-Semitism, many cautioned that not all criticism of Israel should be construed as hate. One of those was Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, who was speaking for the EU. He said reasonable criticism and fair comment about specific Israeli government policies are legitimate.

The Berlin meeting follows a similar forum in Vienna last June. Germany, the country responsible for the Holocaust, is a poignant location to host such a gathering, noted German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

"I would like us to condemn all forms of anti-Semitism as actions demeaning our human dignity; to create instruments that would help detect any acts of anti-Semitism in OSCE countries; and [to] take appropriate measures," Fischer said. "I would like us to assume a common political responsibility to fight all forms of anti-Semitism openly and decisively."