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Europe

EU Vows to Combat Anti-Semitism

The European Commission's president called for member states to take a hard line against anti-Semitism, after a day-long seminar with Jewish and other European leaders in Brussels.

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Europe has work to do, as long as "synagogues and kindergartens are threatened," said the German foreign minister

Romano Prodi said he would encourage EU governments to take a tougher stance against all manifestations of racism and intolerance by endorsing a draft U.N. resolution against anti-Semitism. He also said he would urge EU interior affairs and justice ministers to explore law enforcement measures and "pre-emptive acition in the field of education."

"We want concrete results," Prodi told the gathering of Jewish groups Thursday.

The Italian commission president comments came after months in which the EU came under heavy criticism for standing by amid a rising wave of anti-Semitism in Europe and the body's perceived anti-Israeli sentiment.

A "European disease"

Jewish leaders said the EU should monitor anti-Jewish incidents more strictly, penalize the perpetrators of the violence more harshly and educate young Europeans about the legacy of centuries of persecution on their continent.

Though anti-Semitism exists in many places in the world, it is also a distinctly "European disease," Nobel-prize winner and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel told the gathering.

"The monster is here with us one more time," said Cobi Benatoff, president of the European Jewish Congress.

Anschlag auf Synagoge

Members of the Jewish community look at fire damages to a synagogue in Marseille, France on April 1, 2002.

Jewish European leaders criticized EU leaders of looking on indifferently as the number of attacks against against Jews and desecration of Jewish sites rose in recent years. Youths from the large communities of Arab immigrants in France, Belgium and other countries are largely blamed for the attacks.

"The challenge of anti-Semitism exists as long as schools, synagogues and kindergartens are threatened," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said.

Anti-Semitic not to be confused with anti-Israeli

Fischer, however, joined other European officials in drawing a distinct line between criticism of Jews and criticism of Israel. While praising Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip, Fischer said it should also be possible to criticize the Israeli government without being labeled anti-Semitic.

Prodi also criticized statements made by people like the United States envoy to the EU that draw lines between the levels of anti-Semitism today and in the 1930s.

"Europe today is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s and
to say that would be quite wrong -- we must not insult the
memory of the Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust) by equating what is happening today...with what happened then," he said, according to Reuters.

Reports criticized

The EU nevertheless has a lot of work to do, according to Jewish leaders. The New York-based World Jewish Congress called an EU poll last year in which Israel topped a list of nations seen as threatening world peace as "dangerously inflammatory."

The European Jewish Congress also criticized the EU's European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia foir witholding a report last year that blamed the rise in anti-Semitic attacks on right-wing extremists or young Muslims "mostly of Arab descent."

The Jewish group said the EU had suppressed the report because it linked Arab immigrants to anti-Semitic violence in Europe. The monitoring center, however, said it had withheld the report because it was of "poor quality and lacking in empirical evidence."

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