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European Jews Increasingly Targeted by Attacks, Slurs - 2003-05-14

Hate acts against Jews in Europe are increasing, according to experts at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting in Paris.

The three-day conference was organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish rights group, and it included a number of Jewish activists and Israeli politicians, along with international experts. The center suggests that hate acts against Jews in Europe have reached levels not seen since World War II.

The head of the European Union monitoring center on racism, Beate Winkler, told the conference that slurs and attacks against Jews, and sometimes Muslims, have grown alarmingly in certain parts of Europe.

"The anti-Semitic incidents in Europe are ominous," she said. "Old images reappear. The anti-Islamic sentiments after September 11 are ominous too. And in both cases, it is the symbolism of other religions - synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, mosques - which becomes a cause of violence."

Ms. Winkler said the recent rise in anti-Jewish acts has been particularly noted in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and France. She also described an alarming increase in Internet hate messages coming from Spain and Denmark. In some cases, she said, fundamental religious groups are working with right-wing hate groups in creating the Web sites.

But she also praised recent European efforts to teach tolerance, including new European Union legislation to fight racism and xenophobia.

France, home to the world's third-largest Jewish community, has been a particular cause of concern in recent months. A report in March by the French government found anti-Jewish acts constituted 62 percent of all hate crimes in 2002.

In many cases, those committing the acts are young ethnic Arabs, said Rachid Kaci, an ethnic North African politician, and a member of France's conservative UMP party.

Ignoring the fact that Muslim youths are perpetrating many anti-Jewish acts, he says, is naive at best, and ignorant at worst. In low-income housing projects, where many live, he says the word "Jew" has become an insult.

But critics argue the Wiesenthal Center has mislabeled widespread anger in Europe over Israel's treatment of Palestinians as anti-Semitism. Protesters outside the Paris conference also said the center had deliberately excluded radical Jewish organizations from its list of hate groups.