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Europe

Prodi Defends Cancellation of Anti-Semitism Seminar

European Commission President Romano Prodi on Wednesday defended his decision to cancel a seminar on anti-Semitism in the EU, saying battling anti-Jewish sentiment still had the “highest priority” in Europe.

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Prodi rejects criticism from leading Jewish groups.

Prodi reiterated that his public row with two prominent Jewish groups had been sparked by the groups’ accusing the Commission of fueling anti-Semitism.

“The problem isn’t on the side of the EU Commission,” Prodi told reporters. He said he had been both “surprised and shocked” by an editorial by Edgar Bronfman from the World Jewish Congress and Cobi Benatoff from the European Jewish Congress. The opinion piece, which appeared in the Financial Times newspaper on Monday, said the Commission had acted “politically” on recent matters involving anti-Semitism in Europe.

Prodi has received considerable criticism for canceling the anti-Semitism seminar. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the move was “childish” and offered to have Italy to host the conference instead.

The seminar had been scheduled for next month largely in response to a November poll in which most Europeans considered Israel the biggest threat to world peace and a report detailing rising violence against Jews in the European Union.

Israel a threat?

The survey showed 59 percent of those asked to pick a country that most endangered world peace selected Israel from a list of nations. North Korea, Iran and the United States all tied for second place. The report from the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia came to the conclusion that many Muslims were behind the rising incidents of anti-Semitism in Europe. It was initially not published due to concerns about its empirical quality, but the report was later released anyway.

Jewish groups said both incidents highlighted the EU’s growing problem with anti-Semitism and many European and Jewish leaders had hoped the seminar would help defuse tensions. But now Prodi’s decision to call it off has caused things to escalate into a messy public row.

Prodi, who said the EU had no responsibility for the content of the poll or survey, said he had met with Jewish groups after their publication and had suggested the seminar himself. “They accepted and were even enthusiastic, and we were already working on its organization. Then I read this article. I have no explanation for it,” Prodi said, according to the German news agency dpa.

Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said on Wednesday Bronfman and Benatoff would first have to retract their comments before the EU would agree to go ahead with the seminar on anti-Semitism. “We’re not the ones that need this seminar, rather the EU needs it to fight anti-Semitism,” World Jewish Congress Vice President Elan Steinberg told the Financial Times Deutschland on Wednesday. He said the EU’s political leadership had failed to uphold its moral duty to combat anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe. He added, however, that it was unfortunate that the dispute had taken on a personal tone with Prodi.

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