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Jewish Leaders Call on EU to Stamp Out Anti-Semitism - 2004-02-19

Representatives of Jewish groups have called for the European Union to stamp out any resurgence of anti-Semitism, at an EU-sponsored conference in Brussels. The appeal follows a rise in anti-Jewish incidents during the past two years in several European countries.

European Commission president Romano Prodi, who convened the conference, told Jewish leaders from Europe, Israel, and the United States that today's Europe is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s, when the Nazis massacred six million Jews.

But he acknowledged that anti-Jewish feeling is still alive in Europe, especially among disaffected youths from Arab immigrant communities who are angry at Israel's crackdown on Palestinians. France and Belgium, in particular, have seen attacks on Jewish schools, cemeteries, and synagogues.

Mr. Prodi vowed to act on Jewish leaders' calls for this new manifestation of anti-Semitism to be combated with a wide variety of instruments, ranging from police and judicial action to better education in schools on the history of European Jewry.

Despite his pledges, though, some Jewish leaders warned that the resurgence of anti-Semitism is also the result of indifference on the part of governments and citizens.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said Jewish communities in Europe are living in fear 60 years after the horrors of the Jewish death camps like Auschwitz were revealed.

Cobi Benatoff, who heads the European Jewish Congress, says history is repeating itself. He is heard through an interpreter.

"A warning to Europe: we European Jews are not able to live our daily lives as are other European citizens," he said. "Anti-Semitism and prejudice have returned. The monster is here with us once again."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told participants that one way the European Union can fight anti-Semitism is to work strenuously for a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel and Jewish groups say that the bloc is biased toward the Palestinians.

Tensions between the European Union and Jewish groups nearly sabotaged holding the Brussels conference. Jewish leaders criticized as flawed and inflammatory an EU-sponsored opinion poll that showed Europeans believe Israel is a greater threat to peace than any other country.

Mr. Prodi was outraged when Jewish leaders then accused the European Commission of anti-Semitism, but the two sides eventually reconciled and decided to go ahead with the conference.