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Report Notes Rise in Anti-semitism, but Blurs Question of Responsibility

April 1, 2004
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A long-awaited report on European anti- Semitism confirms that it is a growing problem across the continent — but dances around the politically sensitive question of who is responsible.

The 344-page report by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, or EUMC, details a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and England.

Physical assaults are absent or rare in Greece, Austria, Italy and Spain, the report found, but anti-Semitic discourse is virulent there as well.

Those findings are unlikely to surprise observers who have watched a rash of anti-Semitic outbursts spread across Europe since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.

More surprising was the almost passing reference made to the perpetrators. Newer actors such as immigrant Muslim youth are mentioned in the report, but an EUMC press release accompanying the report sought to highlight the role of more traditional sources of anti-Semitism, such as far-right groups and skinheads.

That came as a shock to Jewish groups, who were furious when the EUMC quashed an earlier report last year identifying Muslims and pro-Palestinian left- wingers as the main sources of the “new anti-Semitism” in Europe.

The EUMC said that report was withheld because of methodological shortcomings – – it eventually was released under pressure from Jewish groups — but many suspected the findings simply had proven politically unpalatable given Europe’s huge Muslim immigrant community.

“After the scandal of the previous report, the EUMC has compiled an impressive quantitative analysis that shows an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism in Europe,” Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told JTA on Wednesday. “But they studiously avoid going into the causes of the anti-Semitism; you’re almost left with the impression that it occurred from outer space. It’s an intellectual whitewash and an instance of moral cowardice.”

Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, said “it’s contradictory that the EUMC puts an emphasis on” white, right-wing perpetrators, “whereas the report reveals that the majority of attacks in most countries are committed by young Muslims or North African origin.”

“How can we effectively fight anti-Semitism when we refuse to identify the true perpetrators?” he asked.

“The E.U. still appears unwilling to acknowledge its own findings that Muslim immigrant youth are increasingly responsible for anti-Semitic violence motivated by the conflict in the Middle East,” the Anti-Defamation League noted in a statement.

Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewry, said the response to the spread of anti-Semitism needs to be “education, sanction and integration.”

Cobi Benatoff, president of the European Jewish Congress, said the report was important enough to be presented to the European Parliament.

“However, to be forthright, this is only a first step,” he said. “We must get the message of the fight against anti-Semitism into the streets, into the schools, the universities, the churches and the mosques of Europe. In order to achieve this goal, we must have the support of our political leaders and of the media.”

At a roundtable discussion following presentation of the report, EUMC Director Beate Winkler said that “the main question this report raises is: How will Europe deal with multi-culturalism and its diversity in the future?”

According to the study, “racist incidents decrease when political leadership makes it publicly clear that there is zero tolerance for xenophobia,” she said.

The report marks the first time that data on anti-Semitism has been collected systematically across all 15 E.U. member states under common guidelines set down by the EUMC.

The study calls for a strong E.U. legal framework to support policy decisions and an efficient data collection system to monitor future incidents. Teachers have a crucial role to play, as well as intercultural and interfaith dialogue platforms, the report says.

The roundtable began to delve into the larger issues behind the report.

Ilka Schroeder, a German legislator from the Green Party, said the rise of anti-Semitism is related to the “E.U. policy against Israel” and “anti-Zionist propaganda in the European public.”

Others were less sure. Alima Boumediene-Thierry, from the French Greens, said that “when young Arabs identify themselves with the Palestinians, it’s because their parents were also victims of colonization. We must not make these people feel guilty. They’re not all anti-Semites.”

Amir Zaidan, director of the Islamic Religious Studies Institute in Vienna, criticized the fact that the report differs in its description of the two main groups of perpetrators.

“Religion is mentioned for ‘Muslims,’ ” he noted, “but no religion is attached to ‘white young people.’ “

The WJC’s Steinberg said the report would be discussed in Berlin at a late- April conference on anti-Semitism sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The report “confirms our worst fears: The level of anti-Semitism is such that we can describe it as the most serious since the end of the Second World War,” Steinberg said.”We will press forward, particularly at the Berlin conference, for a more realistic assessment of the problem.”

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