The U.S. government said Wednesday that long-standing anti-Jewish prejudice, anti-Israel sentiment, and a rise in Europe's Muslim population, are contributing to an increase in world-wide acts of anti-Semitism. The finding came in a State Department report mandated by Congress.
In the first of what are to be annual reports on the problem, the State Department says anti-Semitic incidents, especially in Europe, have increased in frequency and severity in the new century, and have disrupted the safety and well-being of Jewish communities.
The State Department report, mandated by an act of Congress last year, covers 62 countries and documents anti-Semitic acts around the world between July 2003 and the end of last year.
The report says overt acts of anti-Semitism have increased significantly in recent years including physical assaults on Jews and attacks and vandalism of Jewish institutions.
It says that in Western Europe, traditional far-right groups still account for a significant proportion of these acts.
But it says disadvantaged and disaffected Muslim youths were increasingly responsible for other incidents and that the trend appears likely to persist as the number of Muslims in Europe grows and their economic prospects remain limited.
The report says the rise in anti-Jewish acts and sentiments has been influenced by Middle Eastern events and mixed with anti-Israel views.
At a news briefing, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Michael Kozak said not all anti-Israel rhetoric is anti-Semitic. But he said the lines between the two are becoming blurred.
He also said the stereotype of Jews as manipulators of the world economy persists, and that anti-Semitic language has crept into, for instance, leftwing criticism of economic globalization:
"You know it's not just some rightwing ultra-nationalist skinhead types," he said. "Now you're getting some fairly, otherwise respectable intellectuals that are left-of-center, who are anti-globalization who are starting to let this stuff creep into their rhetoric, and that's disturbing."
The report says there have been few incidents of attacks on the members of the diminishing Jewish communities in the Arab world.
But it says official and state-supported anti-Zionist propaganda in Arab media, notably Syria's, often crosses the line separating legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies from anti-Semitic vilification.
The State Department's Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Edward O'Donnell says the difference is not difficult to determine:
"Where I think we are on firm ground is the denial of Israel's right to exist, or denial of the Holocaust, or a double standard for Israel, or demonizing Israel's leaders," he said. "These are examples, demonizing Israel's leaders for example with a cartoon with a swastika and so on. Those are the type of clear examples where I think it is commonly agreed that that becomes anti-Semitic."
The report said there were not uniform statistics for anti-Semitic acts in the countries covered, so comparisons were difficult to make.
It said France reported more than 500 anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of last year, nearly as many as in all of 2003.
It said in Russia, Belarus and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, anti-Semitism remained a serious problem with most incidents blamed on ultra-nationalist and other far-right elements.
The report said there is widespread anti-Semitic sentiment in Pakistan, a country without a Jewish community, fanned by anti-Semitic press commentary.
It also said there were notable anti-Semitic incidents during the reporting period in Argentina and isolated incidents in a number of other Latin American countries.
France, Belgium and Germany are credited with effective measures to combat anti-Semitism. Mention is made of the recent French decision to revoke the satellite broadcast license of al-Manar, a TV network run by Lebanon's pro-Iranian Hezbollah party, which is said to feature blatantly anti-Semitic material.