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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 22:23 GMT
EU vows to tackle anti-Semitism
File photo of desecration at a London synagogue
Jewish leaders fear growing anti-Semitism in Europe
European Commission head Romano Prodi has vowed concrete action to fight anti-Semitism in the European Union.

Mr Prodi was addressing a high-level meeting in Brussels, called to address Jewish concerns that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe.

"We are not here to beat our breasts in public and then do nothing," Mr Prodi said, urging European governments to make anti-Semitism an EU-wide offence.

Attacks on Jewish targets have caused alarm among Jewish groups worldwide.

Indifference

The seminar was organised by the European Commission, together with the European Jewish Congress and the Congress of European Rabbis.
European leaders cannot allow criticism of Israel to serve as a fig leaf that covers anti-Semitic rhetoric as a prelude to violence
World Jewish Congress and
European Jewish Congress

It brought together political and religious leaders from Europe and beyond.

"Anti-Semitism has returned. The monster is here with us once again," European Jewish Congress president Cobi Benatoff told the conference.

"What is of most concern to us, however, is the indifference of our fellow European citizens."

The seminar was briefly postponed after Mr Benatoff and the head of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, accused the EU and Mr Prodi himself of fostering anti-Semitism.

The charge infuriated Mr Prodi, who was recently honoured by European rabbis for his part in promoting what he calls "a Europe of diversity".

Romano Prodi
Prodi also wants Holocaust denial to be an EU-wide offence
In a passionate speech to the conference, he rejected the comparison of contemporary Europe to that of the Nazi era.

"Let us be honest and keep things in perspective. Today's Europe is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s."

It would be an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust to put their sufferings on a par with today's demonstrations of anti-Semitism, serious though they are, Mr Prodi said.

He proposed an action plan that would strengthen existing EU rules, including making anti-Semitism and denial of the Holocaust a criminal offence across the European Union.

Mr Prodi's proposals echo calls by Jewish leaders for national governments to set up special taskforces to monitor and combat anti-Semitism - as France and Italy have recently done - and co-ordinate action internationally.

Peace moves

The complexities of the problem were apparent throughout the day, with constant allusions to Israel and the Middle East crisis, the BBC's religious affairs correspondent Jane Little reports.

Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nathan Sharansky said that while criticism of Israel was legitimate, it was often a vehicle for anti-Semitism.

ATTACKS ON JEWS IN FRANCE
Jan-Aug 2002 - 647
Jan-Aug 2003 - 247
Source: French Interior Ministry
German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer said the EU would continue to strive for peace in the Middle East despite criticism from Israel and Jewish groups that it is biased toward the Palestinians.

"We must energetically tackle anti-Semitism, but solving the Middle East and developing a real vision of peace it the major, major challenge for a Europe that is uniting," Mr Fischer said.

Alongside the fears of Jewish communities, there is some evidence that attacks on Jewish targets have declined.

The French Interior Ministry recorded 247 anti-Semitic incidents in the first eight months of 2003 - down from 647 in the same period a year earlier.

France recorded the highest number of attacks on Jewish targets in Europe in 2002.

However, a UK Jewish organisation that monitors anti-Semitic incidents, the Community Security Trust, is expected this week to announce a slight rise in the number of attacks in 2003 as compared to 2002.




SEE ALSO:
Anti-Semitism row halts EU forum
06 Jan 04  |  Europe
Desecration of the dead
08 Dec 03  |  Magazine
Rabbi warns of race hate attacks
17 Nov 03  |  Middle East
France vows to fight hate crime
17 Nov 03  |  Europe


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