The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League rights group says U.S. police appear to have foiled the latest in a series of anti-Semitic plots in the country by arresting seven men in North Carolina last week. The men are accused of planning terrorism in Israel and elsewhere.

Jewish communities in the United States, Europe and Latin America experienced a surge in verbal and physical attacks and threats earlier this year, fueled by anger over an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

International experts say many acts of anti-Israel protest crossed the line into anti-Semitism, making early 2009 one of the most violent and widespread anti-Semitic periods in recent years.

Venezuelan Jews attacked

On January 31, 2009, vandals desecrated a synagogue in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, destroying religious books and painting anti-Semitic slogans on the walls. Members of the local Jewish community were shocked by what they saw.

Researchers at Israel's Tel Aviv University say it was the first such attack in Venezuela's history. Weeks later, on February 26, assailants threw a small explosive at a Jewish community center in Caracas, damaging its doors.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict fuels anti-Semitism

The attacks coincided with a surge in violent anti-Semitism in Latin America, Europe and the United States. The researchers say it was driven by anger over Israel's three-week offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which began in late December.

The world has experienced waves of violent anti-Semitism before, most recently during outbreaks of Israeli-Arab conflict in 2006 and 2000.

But, Paul LeGendre of the New York-based rights group "Human Rights First" says this year's wave of incidents was different.

"To a certain extent it was more violent, there were more recorded cases of violence, and they were recorded across a greater range of countries," he said.

Tel Aviv study finds recurring theme

A Tel Aviv University study says there were about 90 cases of anti-Semitic violence against property and people worldwide in January, three times the figure for January 2008. It also found a rise in verbal and visual expressions of anti-Semitism such as graffiti and threats.

The researchers say the incidents had a recurring theme: comparing Israel and its Jewish supporters to Nazi Germany through the use of swastikas and slogans.

Washington-based rabbi Andrew Baker has been monitoring global anti-Semitism as a special envoy of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"There has been a growing recognition that there is what some people refer to as a new form of anti-Semitism - one where, in this case, it is not the individual Jew, but the Jewish state that is singled out, demonized, attacked in ways that no other state would be attacked," Baker said.

The European Union "Fundamental Rights Agency" widened its definition of anti-Semitism in 2005 to include such practices.

In early January, some anti-Israel protesters in the German capital, Berlin, also employed a more traditional anti-Semitic blood libel, by labeling Israelis as "child murderers" in Arabic.

U.S.-based anti-war movement the "ANSWER Coalition" also held scores of demonstrations against Israel's Gaza offensive. It accused the media of smearing the protests and said it stands against all expressions of racism, from hatred of Arabs to anti-Semitism.

Should Israel be immune to all criticism?

LeGendre of Human Rights First says his organization condemns anti-Semitism, but does not believe Israel should be immune to all criticism.

"It is true that some of the language of protest against Israel has become increasingly anti-Semitic," LeGendre said. "But that of course does not necessarily deprive individuals of their right to engage in legitimate protest against the actions of government."

In Europe, French and British authorities said the number of anti-Semitic incidents in January exceeded the number of cases recorded over similar periods in recent years. The two nations are home to Europe's largest Jewish communities.

The most serious cases in France included arson attempts on synagogues and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries in several cities. In Paris,  assailants stabbed and wounded a Jewish man wearing a Jewish symbol and beat up a Jewish teenager in separate incidents.

European monitoring groups also reported assaults on Jewish people and arson attacks on Jewish institutions in Britain, Sweden and Belgium.

The British monitoring group the "Community Security Trust" recorded more than 600 anti-Semitic incidents from January to June, making 2009 the worst year since records began in 1984.

Analyst: surge in anti-Semitism is unacceptable

Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos is head of research at the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency. He says the surge in anti-Semitism on the continent is unacceptable.

"Whether you have one incident, or 100 incidents or 1,000 incidents, for us it is the principle, and not the number of incidents, which should be important," Dimitrakopoulos said.

Violent cases of anti-Semitism also were recorded in the United States in January and late December.

Assailants vandalized several synagogues and a Hebrew school in the midwestern city of Chicago. Vandals also desecrated synagogues in the southern U.S. states of Tennessee and North Carolina and defaced a Holocaust memorial in the western city of San Francisco.

In other incidents, an elderly American white supremacist shot and killed a security guard at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum in June. And U.S. authorities arrested four Americans in May for allegedly plotting to blow up two New York City synagogues.

OSCE special envoy Andrew Baker says such incidents in the United States are intolerable, but do not appear to have reached an alarming level.

"Overall it is much much less of a problem in this arena than we will find in almost every other country, certainly in European countries," Baker said. "I think when we look at attitudes among the American public, we also have a generally positive picture to see."

South America sees unprecedented increase in anti-Semitism

The Tel Aviv University researchers say Israel's Gaza offensive also triggered an unprecedented increase in anti-Semitic activity in South America.

Aside from Venezuela, the study says cases of anti-Semitic graffiti rose sharply in Uruguay, where assailants also set off a bomb outside a Jewish organization for the first time.

Argentina's main Jewish organization DAIA received 240 complaints about anti-Semitism from the public in January to February, equivalent to the average amount received over eight months in previous years.

In May, anti-Israel activists in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, assaulted and injured local Jews attending a pro-Israel event. Also in May, Brazilian police said they thwarted a plan by neo-Nazis to bomb two synagogues in the southern city of Porto Alegre.