February 18, 2009 / 3:50 AM / 10 years ago

Gaza, slump seen spurring rise in anti-Semitism

LONDON (Reuters) - Israel’s offensive in Gaza and the global economic downturn have spurred a rise in physical and verbal attacks on Jews, participants in an international conference on anti-Semitism said Tuesday.

A Star of David burns in flames during a protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza in front of the Israeli embassy in Ankara, December 28, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

“In the last six weeks, we have seen an explosion of anti-Semitic activity and behavior — which I would describe as a pandemic — as a result of both the Gaza war and the economic crisis being blamed on Jews,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S. civil rights group, said.

“Since World War Two we have not seen so many attacks on Jews, Jewish institutions, synagogues,” he told Reuters during a London conference on anti-Semitism attended by 125 legislators from 40 countries.

British Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch-Brown said there had been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain and elsewhere in Europe after the Gaza campaign.

Several countries have reported an increase in anti-Semitism during Israel’s 22-day offensive in Gaza which ended with a January 18 truce with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

France’s main Jewish association CRIF recorded more than 100 attacks in January, up from 20 to 25 a month in the previous two years.

Some 250 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Britain in the four weeks after fighting began in Gaza, compared with 541 incidents over the whole of last year, a charity that protects the Jewish community was reported last week as saying.

In Venezuela, armed men vandalized the Tiferet synagogue in January while Turkey’s centuries-old Jewish community said it was alarmed by anti-Semitism that emerged during protests at Israel’s Gaza assault.

“(There’s) no doubt that each time when Israel has to struggle, to fight, to protect its citizens, the anti-Semitic feelings all over the world grow up,” said Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli government minister.

A survey by the Anti-Defamation League published last week found that stereotypes about Jewish power in business still held strong in Europe.

The poll of 3,500 people in Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Spain and Britain found 31 percent blamed Jews in the financial industry for the global economic crisis.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, a lobby group, said there was a consensus at the conference that anti-Semitism had reached new heights.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza was “just another factor” in a much larger issue, he said. While anti-Semitism was focused to a large degree in Europe, it was a global problem, he said.

The increase in anti-Semitism was set against a backdrop of the economic crisis “which only makes matters worse by accusing Jews of nefarious economic crimes,” he told Reuters.

The legislators, most of whom were not Jewish, agreed to a declaration urging governments to stop anti-Semitic programs being broadcast on satellite television and to teach children about the Holocaust, racism and anti-Semitism.

(Additional reporting by Marie-Claire Fennessy)

Editing by Richard Balmforth

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