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Powell lauds Germany forstrides towards tolerance

28 April 2004

BERLIN – US Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday lauded efforts by German leaders to make amends for past crimes against Jews and to stride toward tolerance of all creeds and beliefs.

“Naturally we must all respect the culture of others,” Powell said on the periphery of an international anti-Semitism conference in Berlin.

His remarks were made in a closed-door meeting with German parliamentary representatives and officials of the Central Council of Jews in Germany as well as the German Islamic Federation.

“As my friend (German Foreign Minister) has already said, it is sad that such a conference is necessary at all,” Powell said.

“I hope I will be able to return to Washington with a better idea of the situation in Germany and in Europe,” he said.

The conference – taking place at the German Foreign Ministry in Nazi Germany’s former central bank – comes after rising attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in some European countries over past years.

German President Johannes Rau opened the meeting by underlining the Mideast conflict and Israeli policies were playing a growing role in 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.

Criticizing Jews and Jewish institutions was of course allowed, said Rau, adding: “But we certainly also know that criticism of Jews and Jewish institutions frequently comes from people with deeply held anti-Semitic sentiments.”

The conference, however, remained split Wednesday on whether criticism of Israel should be seen as a form of anti-Jewish bias, amid warnings Jews faced growing threats.

“Anti-Semitism is clearly on the rise … but not only in Europe,” said Holocaust survivor and Nobel prizewinner Elie Wiesel in a speech to the meeting called by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and attended by 600 top officials from 55 nations.

The conference – taking place at the German Foreign Ministry in Nazi Germany’s former central bank – comes after rising attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in some European countries over past years.

“France is up against a wave of anti-Semitism,” said Simone Veil, Auschwitz survivor and former president of the European Parliament.

Israel swiftly moved to centre stage of the meeting with German officials saying a debate was raging behind the scenes pitting some Arab countries and Turkey against most of the Western nations.

A US participant said an important step was made late Tuesday when Russia provisionally accepted the interpretation of anti-Israel criticism as a form of anti-Semitism.

This issue will be a key element of the final declaration the OSCE conference has to adopt unanimously Thursday when the two-day meeting ends.

Wiesel noted that while a just solution was needed for the Arab- Israeli conflict, he could never associate himself with those who sent out suicide bombers.

And he bitterly attacked some Moslem nations for, as he put it, making “Jew hating … part of official policy.”

Wiesel admitted he was better at posing questions than finding ways to fight anti-Semitism. “If Auschwitz didn’t kill anti-Semitism, what can?” he said.

Nevertheless, Wiesel said that holding the conference in Berlin – just a few blocks from where Adolf Hitler plotted the Final Solution – would send out a powerful message to “stop the poison.”

Other officials attending, including German Foreign Minister Fischer, called practical matters including beefing up European police cooperation, collecting and publishing national data on anti-Semitic attacks and passing more laws aimed at anti-Semitism in Europe.

OSCE Chairman Solomon Passy stressed that education was the key to rooting out anti-Semitism.

But Veil warned that French schools were faltering in this task as young immigrants from Moslem countries took up what she called “victim competition.”

Some French teachers were now declining the teach about the Holocaust for fear of causing controversy with such students, she said.

Summing up the overall situation of Jews in Europe President Rau underlined that there was clearly a big difference between today’s problems and those of the 1930s and 40s.

“Back then the barbarism came from the state – the German state,” said Rau, adding that today all European states and the international community staunchly opposed anti-Semitism.


Subject: German news