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May 13, 2003

Official: More Attacks on Jews in Europe

Attacks against Jews in Europe have reached the highest level since World War II, an official who tracks the incidents said Monday, an increase that coincides with heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, speaking at an international conference on religious tolerance, cited a series of attacks in France and Britain on Jewish schools, temples and cemeteries.

"A new generation of haters has been brought up and are ready to act," said Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which organized the three-day conference with the United Nations to discuss ways to try to reverse the trend.

Since 2001, the center has documented 1,300 anti-Semitic acts in France. In Britain, records show 1,308 attacks against Jews from 1998-2001.

The incidents include an arson attack that destroyed a synagogue in Marseille last year and the stabbing in January of a rabbi in Paris. On March 22, several dozen assailants beat two Jewish youths with metal bars at an anti-war protest in Paris. Slogans denouncing Jews are regularly spray-painted on school walls and over Jewish cemeteries.

In Berlin, authorities said Monday a man wearing a Star of David necklace was assaulted in a bus the night before by a group of teenagers who called him a "dirty Jew," spit in his face and kicked him in the head. The assailants fled and there were no arrests.

"These are critical times," Hier said. "Never since the end of the Second World War have we witnessed such proliferation of anti-Semitism."

Some 50 people protested outside the conference, accusing the Wiesenthal Center of mislabeling as anti-Semitism criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Demonstrators, including members of the Americans Against the War coalition, also criticized the report on Internet extremists for not including Zionist organizations.

The Wiesenthal Center, "under the deceitful cover of the struggle against anti-Semitism, is on the contrary encouraging intolerance and racism in our societies," the demonstrators said in a letter to the director-general of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura.

Hier attributed the increase in attacks to a fundamental, age-old hatred of Jews. "There is nothing new about the oldest hatred," he said. "Some will hide behind what Israel is doing ... but those are just excuses, that's a ruse."