A two-day conference aimed at raising awareness of the spread of anti-semitism and the dangers it poses to democracy concluded Thursday in Rome. The meeting was convened by the Anti-Defamation League, a group formed early last century to fight anti-semitism and discrimination against Jews, and co-sponsored by the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.
The conference "Anti-Semitism - A Threat to Democracy" brought together European and U.S. politicians, journalists and Jewish rights activists to examine the current trends in anti-semitism.
Participants gathered in Rome Wednesday evening, where Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, a former neo-fascist, delivered an opening address. Mr. Fini said the conference confirmed the need for commitment of all political institutions and society in general in the fight against anti-semitism.
The director of the U.S. Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, praised Italy's stand against anti-semitism. He said the Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has always recognized the seriousness of the anti-semitism problem. "It is also our shared view that anti-semitism, while specifically directed at Jews, is a threat to all of us, is a threat to democracy, is a threat to all decent people for anti- semistism is against all of us. It is in fact a crime against humanity," he said.
During the conference, Mr. Foxman was granted one of the Italian republic's highest honors for his work to combat anti-semitism. He spoke about the present situation. "Recently a chill wind, an ill wind is blowing across the world. It is poisoning the atmosphere in continent after continent and painfully, especially here is Europe. It is a wind of war in which the entire world is the battlefield for verbal and violent attacks on the Jewish people and the Jewish state," he said.
Barbara Balser, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, said hatred is the most powerful weapon of mass destruction and is now an international security threat, endangering peoples' lives and their liberty. "Today those who blow up buses in Jerusalem in the name of an Islamic war against Jews are the very same people who blow up nightclubs in Bali and trains in Madrid. They demonize and de-legitimize Israel and aim to destroy it. That's why we have fought so hard to combat the intense, vicious, dangerous anti-semitism pouring from the Middle East across the continent," she said.
Joshua Muravchik, resident scholar of the American Enterprise Institute, said in the Middle East virulent hatred of Israel is flourishing and age-old malicious fables about Jews persist. "The absence of democracy and the absence of freedom is condusive to the birth and the growth of anti-semitism. The epicenter of world anti-semitism today is the Muslim Middle East," he said.
Panelists discussed what democratic societies can do to combat anti-Jewish attacks and incitement against Jews in Western countries.
The former Spanish Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, said anti-semitism in Europe is multi-faceted and built upon layers of historical prejudice and persecution.
Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, said people need to know about each other's cultures to help prevent malicious prejudice. Mr. Pisanu said ignorance is the mother of many evils, certainly of all prejudice, like racism and anti-semitism.
The director of the U.S. Anti-Defamation League, Mr. Foxman, said a massive effort is needed by European leaders in politics, journalism, education and other facets of society to eliminate the foothold that anti-semitism has gained in Europe.
Mr. Foxman said it is necessary to pass and implement legislation, develop specific mechanisms to record anti-semitic incidents and promote training and education of law enforcement officials and teachers across the continent to combat anti-semitism and racism.
He also called for inter-faith and inter-ethnic dialogue, and efforts to influence public opinion to understand and appreciate the differences in Europe's increasingly heterogeneous society.