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Europe

EU’s Anti-Semitism Study Dogged by Controversy

A study on anti-Semitism, allegedly quashed by the EU for singling out Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups for anti-Jewish violence, has now unofficially been published on the net. Allegations of censorship are flying.

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Vandals set fire to a synagoge in Strasbourg, France in March 2002.

The EU’s Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) faced tough questioning from members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Wednesday after it emerged that the center had shelved an anti-Semitism study, conducted by a Berlin-based research institute, on account of its sensitive content.

The controversy surfaced after the European Jewish Congress (EJC), an umbrella organization for Europe’s Jewish organizations and Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit said on Wednesday they had published the study online.

EUMC accused of censorship

The EUMC stands accused of suppressing the results of the February study because it singled out Muslim immigrants and pro-Palestinians for being behind a rise in anti-Semitic violence in Europe. Cohn-Bendit said it was important the suppressed study saw the light of day. "Even if this report is problematic and controversial, it would be worse not to publish than to make it accessible to the public. In a democracy, we need transparency and an open debate rather than censorship," he stressed.

Cobi Benatoff, chairman of the European Jewish Congress, also said the issue smacked of censorship. "It was a political decision. Now the people can read it and decide for themselves," he told the Financial Times.

"To be candid [the EU] are not prepared to deal with the sensitive subject of anti-Semitism among Muslims, who constitute Europe’s largest minority," Elan Steinberg, EJC executive Vice-President told Reuters.

EUMC faces the music

The EUMC has defended its decision not to publish the study. Bob Purkiss, chair of the EUMC management board, insisted that the study, carried out by the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at Berlin’s Technical University, had been put on hold because it was considered to be "of poor quality and lacking empirical evidence." In a press release on Wednesday, the EUMC said the data it had provided to the authors "was not comparable and sufficient enough."

The EUMC now faces a freeze on its finances following the controversy. Christian Democratic Union MEP Armin Laschet announced on Wednesday that the European Parliament had suspended the EUMC’s funding, amounting to €200,000. "The blending of politics and science" must first be cleared, Laschet said and added that "political motives" seemed to be behind the EUMC’s decision.

Study links anti-Semitism to Middle East conflict

The study, called "Manifestations of anti-Semitism in the European Union," was handed over to the EUMC in February this year and examines incidents of anti-Semitism until summer 2002. It states that anti-Semitic violence had clearly risen in all EU member states in spring 2002.

"This wave of anti-Semitism started with the 'Al-Aqsa Intifada' in October 2000 and was fuelled by the conflict in the Middle East and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, which triggered off a fierce debate on the causes of radical Islamic terrorism," the authors wrote.

Professor Dr. Werner Bergmann, one of the authors of the study, told Deutsche Welle that anti-Semitism remains latent most of the time. "However in times when this topic is on the top of the agenda, as in the first half of 2002, strong feelings and attitudes were evoked in some countries especially France, the Netherlands, Belgium and also Germany," he said. "There were big discussions on the politics of Israel, which sometimes use anti-Semitic stereotypes and sometimes even become violent."

The study concludes there was no discernibly consistent pattern in anti-Semitic violence for the whole of Europe, despite some similarities. "Physical attacks on Jews and the desecration and destruction of synagogues were acts often committed by young Muslim perpetrators in the monitoring period. Many of these attacks occurred either during or after pro-Palestinian demonstrations," the study states. The report also says that anti-Semitic remarks in the extreme left-wing scene are mainly found in the context of pro-Palestinian and anti-globalization rallies.

Latent anti-Semitism in Germany?

With regard to Germany, the study states that most anti-Semitic attacks come from an active far-right scene. However the main problem in Germany, the report says, is not an increase in physical acts of violence against Jews and their organizations, but rather a more subtle form of anti-Semitism manifested in anti-Jewish statements and behavior.

Dr. Bergmann said that the most important finding of the study with respect to Germany "is that we have a very strong public discussion about the Middle East conflict and a very critical position towards the politics of Israel. The threat by young Muslims is rare."

The authors and researchers who worked on the study are now urging EU nations to intensify cooperation on gathering data on anti-Semitic incidents as well as drafting tougher laws against anti-Semitic content in the Internet.

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