BERLIN, April 27 (JTA) A new report showing that European anti-Semitism may be on the decline came just as participants were arriving in Berlin for a major international conference on anti-Semitism. Released Monday in Berlin by the Anti-Defamation League, the survey showed a drop in anti-Semitic attitudes in most European countries since the ADL’s last poll on the issue, in 2002. But the survey also showed a marked rise in anti-Israel sentiment on the continent, which the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, called disturbing. The survey was conducted in 10 European countries between March 16 and April 8, and the findings were announced shortly before the start of a conference on anti-Semitism sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The disparity between the drop in anti-Semitism and the rise in hostility toward Israel suggest that political intervention has helped Europeans separate their feelings about Jews from their views on Israel, Foxman said. But ultimately, Foxman warned, bias against Israel “impacts on how Jews are perceived.” The most dramatic declines in anti-Semitic attitudes came in France and Spain, the survey showed. In France, which has been a focal point for attacks against Jews in Europe, there was a decline of 10 percentage points, to 25 percent from 35 percent. Foxman attributed the decline to the willingness of French leaders to stand up against anti-Semitism. He singled out French President Jacques Chirac, who in 2003 called anti-Semitism an assault on all French citizens and pledged to combat it. In two of the 10 countries surveyed the United Kingdom and the Netherlands anti-Semitic attitudes increased. In the United Kingdom, 24 percent of those surveyed held anti-Semitic attitudes, up from 19 percent in 2002. The number of people holding favorable attitudes toward Israel declined in the United Kingdom from 29 percent to 24 percent, a decline reflected in most of the countries surveyed. Among the survey’s other findings: Eight of 10 European countries polled showed a decrease in anti-Semitic attitudes in 2003. Nine countries showed a decline in the number of those believing “Jews are more loyal to Israel than their country.” Six countries saw a drop in the number of those believing “Jews don’t care about anyone but their own kind,” while two countries saw an increase. Attitudes toward Israel grew worse in all 10 countries polled, with overall favorability dropping to 23 percent in 2003 from 28 percent in 2002. By a margin of 2-1, Israel is held more responsible for violence than the Palestinians. Foxman said the latter results “make it more difficult for Europe to play a constructive role in the Middle East peace process.” “It’s open season on Israel, an open season of criticism at a level that is almost beyond reason and rationale,” he said. The best antidotes to anti-Semitism are education and outright rejection, Foxman said. “Marginalize it, condemn it as immoral, as unchristian, as unacceptable. Make it known to the political leadership,” he recommended. The timing of the survey’s release was meant, in part, to influence discussion of anti-Semitism at the OSCE conference later in the week, hosted by Germany at the invitation of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The event is an outgrowth of the first OSCE conference on anti-Semitism, held in June 2003 in Vienna, and marks a response to increased anti-Semitic crime in Europe over the last few years. The European Union also held a conference on the issue in February 2004. There are signs that the increased response to and awareness of anti-Semitism may be paying off, at least in terms of overall anti-Semitic crime levels. Bolstering the ADL survey, two other new reports showed drops in overall anti-Semitic crimes in Germany and France but both reports showed that such crimes were becoming more violent. German government sources said there were 1,300 reported anti-Semitic crimes in 2003, down 20 percent from the previous year. But the number of violent attacks against Jews rose to 35 from 28, including 12 incidents in Berlin. Half of the violent attacks in 2003 reportedly were by youths of non-German background. Likewise, a new report by an Israeli research institute showed an increase in the number of serious meaning violent anti-Semitic incidents around the world in 2003. The report also said that a majority of attacks were by Muslim youths. Of a total of 360 serious incidents registered last year, 30 involved physical attacks with weapons, as well as bombings and arson, and 330 involved unarmed physical aggression and vandalism, according to Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism. In 2002, there were 311 serious incidents. In France, as in Germany, there was a drop in overall anti-Semitic incidents, but the number of violent cases increased to 233 in 2003 from 185 in 2002. Of those, 100 were physical attacks, up from 75 the previous year, according to a French watchdog organization, the Jewish Community Protection Service. The French group said the overall number of anti-Semitic incidents fell to 503 in 2003 from 517 in 2002, and arson attacks on synagogues and other Jewish institutions dropped to 9 from 29 in the previous year a fact the Stephen Roth institute suggested was attributable to increased security provided by the French government. The five countries with the highest rates of anti-Semitic incidents in 2003 were France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany and Canada, the Israeli report said. Typically, the rate of anti-Semitic incidents correlates with the size of a country’s Jewish population. The Israeli report’s authors concurred with a research team at Berlin’s Center for Research on Anti-Semitism that most events were perpetrated by Muslim youth who were influenced by anti-Israel media.
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Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.