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Jewish appeal at EU anti-Semitism conference

Jewish leaders appealed to the European Union today to take a lead in combating a perceived revival of anti-Semitism, warning that official indifference was leading to a return of the Continent's historic "monster."

 
"Jewish communities in Europe live in fear," said Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace prize winning author and Holocaust survivor.

"How is it that the reverberations of the 20th century still spread into the 21st century? Haven't we learned anything?"

Mr Wiesel was addressing government, religious and community leaders attending an unprecedented seminar organised by the EU in response to concerns about a return of anti-Semitism.

Romano Prodi, the European Commission President, stressed that "the Europe of today is the not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s." But, he added, "We must never forget what happened then.

Anti-Semitic acts must be dealt with severely and the rights of our minorities must be safeguarded."

Mr Prodi conceded that anti-Semitism, spreading among disaffected Arab minorities in Europe and fuelled by the Middle East conflict, presented a "new challenge."

He said that the EU would act on calls to toughen penalties for anti-Jewish crimes and improve education about the legacy of centuries of persecution on the Continent.

"We must use all the instruments available to deal with anti-Semitism of this sort, ranging from police and judicial action to education and social measures," he said.

Recent attacks against Jews and their properties in Europe - including fire-bombing of synagogues and schools or desecration of graves - have been linked to the intensification of violence in the Middle East.

Youths from the large Arab immigrant communities in France, Belgium and other European countries have been blamed for many of the incidents.

Jewish organisations have reproached European authorities for failing to take a tough enough stance, or for inflaming anti-Semitism through "unbalanced" criticism of Israeli government policies.

Nathan Sharansky, Israel's Minister for Diaspora Affairs, told the meeting that his Government accepted criticism, but he said there was a "fine line" between legitimate differences and anti-Semitic "demonisation".

He called for Europeans to put pressure on Arab nations that allowed the release of anti-Semitic material, referring to books from Egypt, movies from Syria and sermons delivered in Saudi Arabia.

Cobi Benatoff, president of the European Jewish Congress, said that the EU should join Jewish organisations in monitoring anti-Semitic incidents and back a draft UN resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

"We bring a message today and that message is a warning to Europe," Mr Benatoff said. "Anti-Semitism and prejudice have returned. The monster is here with us once again."

Mr Benatoff and Edgar Bronfman, president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress recently accused the EU of "intellectual dishonesty and moral treachery" in handling anti-Semitism.

They took the EU's head office to task for suppressing a study highlighting the involvement of Europe's Arab minorities in anti-Semitic attacks, and for a "flawed and dangerously inflammatory" EU opinion poll that put Israel at the top of a list of nations seen to threaten world peace.

The accusations infuriated Mr Prodi who has highlighted the EU's role in promoting tolerance and whose first foreign visit after taking office in 1999 was to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in Poland to pay homage to the victims of anti-Semitism. Mr Benatoff praised Mr Prodi today for his "courage and vision," but he said that the EU needed to do more.

"We see today that words simply are not enough ... We expect robust positions to be taken by European authorities."

At a separate meeting in Brussels today, Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabiaís foreign minister, hit out at "negative stereotyping" and warned against imposing Western values on the Arab world.

He said that the fixed idea in the West characterised Islam as followed by "backward characters who should be dragged kicking and screaming into Western civilisation".

He pleaded: "Donít let small numbers of terrorists tarnish this religion. What is needed is mutual understanding and co-operation.

"You cannot just dismiss a 1,400-year-old culture and civilisation and stigmatise it as merely a hatchery for terrorism."

 


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?


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