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Germany

Berlin Conference Urges Action on Anti-Semitism

Delegates to an anti-Semitism conference in Berlin on Wednesday urged the international community to step up efforts to fight rising anti-Semitism.

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Delegates from 55 countries are taking part in the conference.

More than 500 delegates representing 55 countries are taking part in the two-day conference, which is sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Participants including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Israeli President Moshe Katsav are seeking to adopt a declaration and action plan to fight xenophobia and racism against Jews.

"We all share the responsibility to fight anti-Semitism in our countries," German Foreign Minster Joschka Fischer said. "That is the most important message of this conference."

The meeting follows a similar conference in Vienna last June and comes as Jewish groups have complained that European governments have failed to respond to a revival in anti-Semitism in recent years which has coincided with escalating violence in the Middle East.

Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and survivor of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, said he it was symbolic for the conference to be held in Berlin, where the destruction of Europe's Jews had been planned. But he also said he was alarmed at the continuing anti-Semitism on the Continent. "Stop! Stop a disease that has lasted so long. Stop the poison from spreading," Wiesel said.

In a speech opening the conference, German President Johannes Rau said criticism of Israeli actions against the Palestinians could not be used as a shield for anti-Jewish sentiment. "Everyone knows that massive anti-Semitism is behind some of the criticism of the Israeli government's policies in the last decades," he said.

Negative attitudes toward Israel

Antisemitismuskonferenz in Berlin

Just ahead of the conference, the U.S. Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published the results of its latest poll on anti-Semitism in Europe. The 10-nation survey found that while anti-Jewish sentiment has decreased across the continent, negative attitudes toward Israel are on the rise in most Western European countries.

The ADL singled out France as a nation that's had particular success in addressing the problem of anti-Semitism. The ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, praised French President Jacques Chirac for speaking out against anti-Semitic attacks in France and for launching a plan that includes extra security for Jewish sites and tough new penalties for those found guilty of anti-Jewish acts.

"It is now France that is leading the way in showing how a country can reverse itself," said Foxman. The survey found that 25 percent of French people held anti-Semitic views, down from 35 percent in 2002.

Only two European nations -- Britain and the Netherlands -- recorded increases in anti-Semitism, according to the survey, which was based on telephone polls of 500 people in each country. In both cases, the increases are within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

On the whole, the survey found that attitudes towards Israel have worsened in all 10 countries. Israel's "favorability" rating dropped to 23 percent from 28 percent in 2002.

"These findings reflect a bias against Israel in Europe among government and media," Foxman said. He called for "responsible and balanced European positions that engender trust on both sides of the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict."

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