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European Jews Seek Strategy As Anti-semitic Attacks Mount

April 24, 2002
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European Jewish leaders are searching for a common strategy to confront a mounting wave of anti-Semitism apparently linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Leaders from more than a score of countries held a strategy session in Brussels on Monday about how to confront the anti-Semitic outbursts.

The meeting grouped leaders of the European Jewish Congress, the European Council of Jewish Communities, the World Jewish Congress and representatives of individual Jewish communities from across the continent.

One of its aims was to create a unified political voice for European Jewry and set up a standing policy committee to coordinate a response to the new spate of anti-Semitic violence.

Delegates said they planned to organize within the next few weeks a mass rally of European Jews in either Brussels – – the headquarters of the European Union — or Strasbourg, the site of the European Parliament, to show that European governments must shake off their indifference and not dismiss anti-Semitism in Europe as simply fallout from the Middle East.

European Union “governments cannot just shrug their shoulders and say it’s all part of the Middle East problem,” Avi Beker, secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters.

There has been a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe since the onset of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000. These have ranged from verbal taunts and graffiti to attacks on synagogues and other Jewish buildings. Several Jews have been roughed up on the street.

The number of incidents has increased sharply since Israel launched its military incursions into the West Bank in late March. Figures provided by the European Jewish Congress counted some 300 anti-Jewish attacks in the last three weeks.

In Belgium alone, a synagogue in the town of Charleroi was sprayed with bullets over the weekend in an apparent drive-by shooting. Two other Belgian synagogues were recently firebombed, and suspected arsonists also targeted a Brussels building that housed a Jewish bookshop.

Police and other observers believe most of the incidents have been the acts of individual hooligans or angry, alienated youths, rather than part of an orchestrated campaign.

Most of the incidents have occurred in Western Europe, especially in France, but there have been several incidents in former Communist countries, including an attack earlier this month on a synagogue in Kiev, Ukraine.

“The Jewish communities are very concerned about the situation,” Gabriel Taus, executive director of the European Council of Jewish Communities, told JTA. “If some people doubted the seriousness of it before, they don’t doubt it now. There has been a drastic rise in incidents. Some people are openly wondering if the current situation can be compared to the 1930s.”

Taus said the Brussels meeting had been planned for some time as part of an ongoing attempt to forge a united political voice for European Jewry.

“But it took on additional importance because of the current situation,” he said. “All of Europe was represented.”

Several Israeli officials also took part.

In a related development, the European Union of Jewish Students issued a statement decrying the spate of anti-Semitic violence and urging European governments to move actively to stamp it out.

“We see before us to what extent there is a misuse of the Middle East conflict to create open displays of anti- Semitism,” it said. “As a result, synagogues have been attacked, Molotov cocktails have been thrown at Jewish buildings and Jewish students on campuses have been targeted.

“The last days showed us that the exportation of the Middle East crisis to the European continent is a threat to our democracies and to our relations with other minorities and communities,” the statement continued. “It is a barrier which blocks the pluralistic and multicultural Europe that we aspire to live in.

“We, representing Jewish youth across Europe, denounce those who want to transform the war between Israel and Palestine into a generalized ‘Intifada’ between Jews and Muslims on European grounds,” it said.

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