Mideast fuels new Europeananti-Semitism, meeting warns
29 April 2004 , BERLIN - Meeting in the city where Nazi leaders plotted the Holocaust, participants at a major anti-Semitism conference have broadly agreed that today's rising threats to European Jews are being fuelled by more distant tensions in Middle East. Speaker after speaker at the meeting - attended by 600 people from the 55 states of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - hammered home the point that criticism of Israel was all too often used to veil anti-Semitism. German
29 April 2004
BERLIN - Meeting in the city where Nazi leaders plotted the Holocaust, participants at a major anti-Semitism conference have broadly agreed that today's rising threats to European Jews are being fuelled by more distant tensions in Middle East.
Speaker after speaker at the meeting - attended by 600 people from the 55 states of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - hammered home the point that criticism of Israel was all too often used to veil anti-Semitism.
German President Johannes Rau set the tone with a speech warning that the Mideast conflict and Israeli policies were playing a growing role in the anti-Semitism debate in Europe.
"Everybody knows that massive anti-Semitism has been behind some of the criticism of Israeli government policies in the past decades," said Rau speaking at the conference held at the German Foreign Ministry which is housed in the former Nazi Reichsbank.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed a different angle.
"It is not anti-Semitic to criticize the state of Israel," said Powell, adding: "But the line is crossed when Israel or its leaders are demonized or vilified, for example by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures."
In an emotional address, Holocaust survivor and Nobel prizewinner Elie Wiesel bitterly attacked some Moslem nations for, as he put it, making "Jew hating ... part of official policy."
This was echoed by Abraham Foxman, of the US Anti-Defamation League, who complained "political correctness" was hindering some Europeans from pointing the finger at Arabs or Moslems responsible for recent attacks.
But this sensitive issue was side-stepped by most government participants at the conference and a draft conference declaration did not directly mention a problem posed by Moslem anti-Semitism.
US Congressman Christopher Smith, when asked by reporters on this, insisted that OSCE countries had to get their own houses in order first.
"Obviously there are problems in many Middle Eastern countries where a cancer has been allowed to fester," said Smith.
Turkey's OSCE ambassador, Omur Orhun, denounced anti-Semitism but warned it could not be fought merely by passing new laws.
"Breeding grounds for the phenomenon should be eliminated," he said, adding this required more dialogue and education.
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who headed the US delegation, hailed both the Turkish and Moroccan delegations at the conference for what he termed their "very positive" attitude.
But a German Moslem lobby group, the Forum of Independent Moslems, said it failed to see any effort to start a dialogue.
"Mostly the effort seems to be to tar Moslems with the new anti- Semitism," said the group in a statement. Germany has about 3.2 million Moslems out of a total population of 82 million.
A report released on the sidelines of the conference showed an alarming rise in anti-Semitism in a least five member-states of the European Union (EU).
The study by the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, said anti-Semitic acts sharply increased in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Britain and Germany in 2002 and 2003.
Echoing the conference, the study broke new ground by classifying criticism of Israel or anti-Zionist attitudes as anti-Semitic - as long as "Israel is seen as a representative" of the Jewish stereotypes.
It also underlined that many anti-Semitic acts in Europe have been committed by people of Moslem background and are related to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
The Berlin conference took place amid a huge security operation with 4,000 police closing down streets around the foreign ministry and setting up barricades to stop potential suicide bombers.
Conference participants were invited to tour the House of the Wannsee Conference where the Nazis agreed the "Final Solution" for Europe's Jews; the ruins of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters; and a soon-to-be-opened memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe.
The meeting took place four blocks from the Berlin bunker where Nazi leader Adolf Hitler committed suicide in 1945. Remains of the bunker have been sealed off and are closed to the public due to fears they could become a Nazi shrine.
Subject: German news