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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Berlin talks tackle anti-Semitism
A delegate at anti-Semitism conference in Berlin
55 countries took part in the conference
A major conference on anti-Semitism has opened in Berlin with calls for renewed efforts to fight the problem.

The event was convened in response to an apparent rise in anti-Jewish incidents in Europe.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the countries present were there "to stamp out new fires of anti-Semitism within our societies".

The conference aims to draw up specific steps, with education being singled out as a key area for action.

Mr Powell said: "Today we confront the ugly reality that anti-Semitism is not just a fact of history but a current event."

'Lights of tolerance'

He added: "We're appalled that in recent years incidents of anti-Semitic hate crimes have been on the increase in our communities of democratic nations."

He called on his colleagues to "kindle lights of tolerance for future generations" that would lead to a Europe "whole, free, and at peace".

German President Johannes Rau voiced regret that such a meeting had to be held at all and that anti-Semitism had not been consigned to history.

"Many people who, like me, lived through the Nazi era, had wished and hoped that this horrible time of war and genocide, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism no longer had a place in the world," Mr Rau said in his opening address to the conference.

A Holocaust survivor, the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, had an alarming message.

He said anti-Semitism was on the rise, and urged people to "stop the poison spreading".

Desecration at a London synagogue
Attacks against synagogues have been documented
"The Jew I am belongs to a traumatised generation. We have antennas. Better yet, we are antennas," he said.

"If we tell you that the signals we receive are disturbing, that we are alarmed, ... people had better listen."

The two-day meeting brings together representatives from 55 European states and the US.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav is taking part as an observer.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which is sponsoring the meeting, hopes delegates will agree specific policy recommendations for dealing with anti-Semitism, particularly in education and legislation.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi suggested OSCE member states should commit themselves to including the Holocaust in school curriculums.

Conflicting views

The conference is also taking place in the shadow of current conflicts in the Middle East, says the BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin.

Some speakers said criticism of Israel was often merely anti-Semitism disguised, while others warned that this should not be used to prevent legitimate opposition to Israeli policy.

Mr Powell said: "It is not anti-Semitism to criticise the state of Israel, but the line is crossed when the leaders of Israel are demonised or vilified by the use of Nazi symbols."

Ahead of the conference, there were conflicting views on the level of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Some said there seemed to be a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Western Europe that could be attributed to youths from Arab communities.

But a survey published by the Anti-Defamation League on the eve of the summit suggested that anti-Semitic attitudes had declined from 2002 to 2004 in eight of the 10 countries polled.

Ed Koch, Head of US anti-Semitism mission
"Up until last year, there were very few countries willing to say there was anti-Semitism"

EU vows to tackle anti-Semitism
19 Feb 04  |  Europe
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06 Jan 04  |  Europe
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08 Dec 03  |  Magazine

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