WASHINGTON Anti-Semitism, including government-promoted hatred toward Jews and prejudice couched as criticism of Israel, has risen globally over the last decade, the State Department said on Thursday.
"Today, more than 60 years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is not just a fact of history, it is a current event," it said in a report to Congress.
U.S. embassies have noted an increase in attacks on Jewish people, property, institutions, and religious facilities in the last decade, the report said.
The report, titled "Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism," did not give comprehensive statistics, and said that in any case such statistics were skewed against Western democratic countries more likely to report the incidents. But it said other governments and institutions had documented similar trends.
For example, Tel Aviv University's Stephen Roth Institute listed 593 cases of major anti-Semitic incidents in 2006, the highest number since 2000, the report said. Of these, 277 were physical attacks on Jews; 105 synagogues were damaged. Over half the incidents took place in Western Europe.
One attack in 2006 took the life of a young French Jew, Ilan Halimi. The 23-year-old was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burns near railway tracks outside Paris in February 2006, and died of his injuries soon afterward.
While traditional anti-Jewish prejudice, a centuries-old phenomenon, persists, new forms have evolved, the report said.
"The distinguishing feature of the new anti-Semitism is criticism of Zionism or Israeli policy that -- whether intentionally or unintentionally -- has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel's perceived faults to its Jewish character," it said.
This was common throughout the Middle East and in Muslim communities in Europe, but was even encouraged by some activity at the United Nations, the report said.
Various U.N. agencies are asked each year to investigate what are often "sensationalized reports of alleged atrocities and other violations of human rights by Israel," the document said.
Such unremitting criticism of Israel "intentionally or not encourages anti-Semitism." This hostility can translate into physical violence, as in the surge in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide during the 2006 war between Israel and the Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah, the report said.
The report, released by the State Department's Office of the Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, follows up on a 2005 document. It was dedicated to the memory of U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress. The Hungarian-born Lantos died last month of cancer at age 80.
The State Department document also listed examples of some governments and leaders it said "fan the flames of anti-Semitic hatred within their own societies and even beyond their borders."
It cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has questioned whether the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis took place, and Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, who the State Department said had "publicly demonized" Israel.
Syria's government "routinely demonizes Jews through public statements and official propaganda," while in Belarus, "state enterprises freely produce and distribute anti-Semitic material."
State-sponsored media were vehicles for anti-Semitic discourse in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There were also blatantly anti-Semitic private media venues such as the conservative Catholic radio station Radio Maryja in Poland, the report said.
Traditional anti-Semitism remained a problem in Central and Eastern European countries such as Russia and Ukraine. Anti-Semitic violence was a significant concern in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and the report noted increases in anti-Semitic incidents in Argentina, Australia, Canada, and South Africa.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)