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Europe

Anti-Semitism on the Rise in Europe

A report released by a racism watchdog group shows that anti-Semitic incidents increased in five European countries in 2002-2003, including Germany. The report received both praise and criticism from Jewish leaders.

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Young males with right-wing outlooks are behind many attacks, the report says.

The report, put out by the Vienna-based European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), found that anti-Semitic attacks, ranging from hate mail to arson, increased in Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium last year and the year before.

"Europe has a problem with anti-Semitism, manifestations of which have been getting more frequent in some parts of the EU over the last two or three years," the report said.

It identified as the largest group of perpetrators, "young, disaffected white Europeans," and identified a further source of anti-Semitic attacks to be "young Muslims of North African or Asian extraction."

That finding contradicts an earlier, controversial report, commissioned by the EUMC, that had found most of those carrying out anti-Semitic attacks were young Muslims.

The current 344-page document, whose authors conducted research in all 15 EU states, also found that anti-Semitic comments were "particularly virulent" in Austria, Italy, Spain and Greece, although attacks were "relatively rare."

Incidents against Jews were not reported in Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal or Finland, although the EUMC warned that data-gathering techniques varied greatly among EU nations, which made it difficult to make clear comparisons.

France, home to Europe's largest Jewish community, had the highest number of incidents. In 2002, anti-Semitic attacks increased six-fold from the year before.

"There were many incidents of Jewish people assaulted and insulted, attacks against synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish property, and arson against a Jewish school," the report said.

Skinheads in Germany

Germany saw anti-Semitic attacks rise by 69 percent from 1999 to 2000, although they eased somewhat in 2002. The report noted that Jewish organizations in the country have seen a "great increase" in anti-Semitic letters, e-mails and telephone calls over the last two years.

Attacks in Germany were largely the actions of skinheads, according to Beate Winkler, director of the monitoring center.

"That is still the largest group," she said, adding that the report's overall findings were enough to cause "fear and great distress" among Europe's 1.2 million Jews.

While the statistics were not positive, the report did say that action by the EU to confront the problem could be effective. It encouraged EU leaders to take a "strong leadership position" on the topic and urged European states to cooperate more closely to fight racism.

It proposed that nations check schoolbooks for racist bias and recommended that teachers be trained to talk about race discrimination in the classroom.

"Cancer is back"

Jewish leaders were split over their reactions. Cobi Benatoff, president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC), hailed the report for raising awareness of anti-Semitism and calling for European leaders to take action.

"The old cancer is back," he said.

However, speaking at the report's launch, he mentioned that there were "some contradictions" between it and a previous investigation that had found that many of the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks were young Muslims.

Taking a harsher tone, Serge Cwajgenbaum, the EJC's secretary, said the report was "full of contradictions" and criticised the findings for not properly addressing the identity of the culprits.

"How can you fight anti-Semitism without having the courage to identify its authors?" he said.

His comments could reignite the controversy that broke out in December after it emerged that the EUMC had shelved a report compiled by Berlin's Technical University due to its sensitive content. That investigation had blamed rising anti-Semitic attacks on Muslim immigrant and pro-Palestinian groups who were angered by Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At the time, Benatoff said the issue smacked of censorship.

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