U.S. lawmakers Wednesday joined representatives from human rights and Jewish groups in urging European countries to do more to crackdown on anti-Semitic violence. They also urged President Bush, who is now in Europe, to press his counterparts to bring to justice those responsible for a wave of attacks on Jewish targets.
At a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Jewish leaders voiced alarm at the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe especially in France.
"In France, in particular, the Jews have been the target of more incidents this year than in any year since the Holocaust," said Kenneth Jacobson, associate director of the U.S. Anti-Defamation League.
Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Paris, says hundreds of attacks against synagogues, Jewish schools and cemeteries have been documented in Europe in 2000 and 2001. He says the violence continues to increase.
"Official French police statistics have reported over 400 such incidents in the first three months of 2002, rising to a dozen incidents a day in the month of April, 380 in France, topping 127 in Germany and 57 in the United Kingdom," he said.
The rise in anti-Semitic violence in Europe coincided with the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The panel's chairman, Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, expressed concern that European countries, which have been quick to denounce Israel's military campaign in Palestinian territories, have done little to condemn the anti-Semitic violence.
"The silence concerning anti-Semitic attacks was contrasted with the fierce condemnation by certain European governments against actions taken by Israel," he said. "This rhetoric, combined with ever-increasing violence and government inaction, justifiably left a sense of isolation reminiscent of an earlier age."
Alexandra Arriaga, director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA, expressed concern that European authorities are dismissing anti-Semitism as 'hooliganism'.
"Police and other law enforcement officials routinely subject racial and ethnic minorities to harassment and intimidation, and often respond with indifference to racial attacks," she said. "The irresponsible and disinterested attitude of many law enforcement officials is an underlying challenge to combating anti-Semitism and help sustain the problem of impunity for the perpetrators."
Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee says there are several reasons for the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe.
Some of the activity, he argues, can be traced to what he calls a large and increasingly radicalized Arab and Muslim population, which he says is influenced by anti-Semitic rhetoric in much of the Arab media.
Rabbi Baker also points to the growing popularity of far-right politicians in Europe and their nationalist parties, which often embrace anti-Semitic positions.
And he cites what he calls a growing anti-Israel hostility on the political left. "It begins with the premise that in the current Middle East crisis the Palestinians are the victims and Israel their persecutor," he said. "It is, sad to say, the accepted dogma in much of Western Europe. However legitimate criticism of Israel may be, it has in many places crossed the line and become another form of anti-Semitism."
Mr. Baker and other Jewish leaders expressed hope that President Bush would use his current trip to press European leaders to crackdown on anti-Semitic violence. The comments were echoed by Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.
"I would urge the president to call on European leaders to acknowledge publicly and without reservation the anti-Semitic character of these attacks as violations of human rights and further, to call upon these nations and governments to utilize the full powers of their law enforcement tools to investigate the crimes and punish the perpetrators," she said.
Senator Clinton is co-sponsoring a non-binding resolution calling on European nations to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the anti-Semitic attacks.
The U.S. Helsinki Commission is an independent federal agency that monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords. The commission, created in 1976, is made up of nine members each of the Senate and House, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.