U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has joined foreign ministers and other senior officials from more than 50 countries for a conference in Berlin aimed at combating a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The conference is sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Mr. Powell's presence underlines U.S. concern about the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE region in recent years. He arrived here with a delegation of prominent Americans, including Jewish holocaust survivor and 1986 Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel.
Last week, an Israeli watchdog group saidc worldwide incidents of attacks on Jews and vandalism of Jewish sites increased 15 percent, from 2002 to 2003. France, Britain, Germany, Russia and Canada reported the most incidents
The attacks are attributed both to right-wing radical organizations and youthful members of Muslim communities in Europe, inflamed by the upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2001.
Some analysts say opposition in Europe and elsewhere to Israeli policies toward the Palestinians is producing increasing antipathy toward Jews. However, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says events in the Middle East are no excuse for acts of anti-Jewish hatred.
"We think that given the history of the Jewish people, it's very important to remember, and to make sure that any manifestations of anti-Semitism are stopped and are rejected by the civilized world," says Mr. Boucher. "We also think that it's very important to make sure that people don't use political excuses in some vain attempt to justify anti-Semitism, or some attempt to excuse it. Anti-Semitism is inexcusable and can lead to horrible consequences."
As the conference opened, German President Johannes Rau said it is important to distinguish between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israel; athough he also said delegates must recognize that hatred of Jews is behind much of the opposition to Israeli policy.
Mr. Rau says anti-Semitism is no longer perpetrated by the state, as it was in Nazi Germany, and that it is now up to governments to find ways to combat it.
The meeting -- the third major conference in Europe to address the issue of anti-Semitism in the past year -- is taking place under heavy security.
In addition to his role in the OSCE meeting, Secretary of State Powell is holding bilateral meetings aimed at holding together the military coalition in Iraq and laying groundwork for a new U.N. Security Council resolution to bolster the interim government that will take power in Baghdad July First.
He had private meetings scheduled during the day with, among others, the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and Croatia.