Thursday, February 12, 2004

U.S. envoy: Anti-Semitism in Europe nearly as bad as in 1930s 

By Reuters


The U.S. envoy to the European Union said on Thursday that anti-Semitism in Europe was nearly as bad as it was in the 1930s, a decade which saw the rise of German Nazism and led to the extermination of six millions Jews.

The remarks by Ambassador Rockwell Schnabel are likely to rekindle controversy over charges that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, which prompted the European Union's executive to schedule a major seminar on the issue next week.

Speaking at a dinner given by the American Jewish Committee to launch a Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, Schnabel said relations between Europe and the United States had improved since last year's acrimony over the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"There is one issue that we can work on together," he said. "It is to overcome the issue of anti-Semitism which...is indeed - as I understand it and read - getting to a point where it is as bad as it was in the 30s."

He did not elaborate.

Some six million Jews were killed in Europe in the Holocaust that emerged from Nazi Germany's efforts to exterminate European Jewry during the 1939-45 World War Two.

Many Jewish groups are now concerned about what they call a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Synagogues and Jewish schools in France have been attacked repeatedly in recent years, violence authorities link to poor Muslim youths enraged by Israel's tough policies against Palestinian unrest. The country is home to both the largest Jewish and largest Muslim minorities in western Europe.

Charges of anti-Semitism were fuelled last year when a controversial survey carried out by the European Commission found that a majority of the bloc's citizens see Israel as a threat to world peace.

The EU's anti-racism agency also withheld a report blaming Muslim immigrants for a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe but finally released it under pressure from European parliamentarians and major Jewish groups.

The Commission reacted with fury last month when two leading Jewish groups - referring to the opinion poll and the withholding of the report - accused it of anti-Semitism through both "action and inaction".

Some EU officials are, however, concerned at what they see as a tendency to stigmatize legitimate criticism of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians as anti-Semitic.

"Recent acts and expressions of anti-Semitism in Europe are outrageous," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the 400 dinner guests. "The burning of synagogues, the physical and verbal abuse of Jews in the street are absolutely unacceptable."

"But let us not confuse two very different things," he added. "Acts and expressions of anti-Semitism within the European Union are not acts of anti-Semitism by the European Union. The policies of the European Union are neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israeli."

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