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EU vows to fight anti-Semitism, urges tolerance of Israel

BRUSSELS -- The European Union told world Jewish leaders yesterday that it would step up the fight against anti-Semitism, including the rash of recent attacks on Jews and their property across the continent.

European Commission President Romano Prodi said he will ask EU justice and interior affairs ministers to take a lead role in fighting anti-Semitism.

He said the campaign "calls for law enforcement measures as well as preemptive action in the field of education."

In turn, he asked Jewish leaders not to equate European criticism of Israeli government policies with anti-Jewish sentiments.

Prodi said he would urge EU governments to step up the fight against "all manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and related intolerance" and endorse a draft United Nations resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

Prodi addressed a one-day seminar attended by government, religious, and community leaders. It was convened after the World Jewish Congress accused the EU of playing down rising anti-Semitism.

The group, based in New York, had chided the EU executive for censoring a study last year highlighting the involvement of Europe's Arab minorities in anti-Semitic attacks.

It also cited a "dangerously inflammatory" EU opinion poll putting Israel at the top of a list of nations seen to threaten world peace.

Cobi Benatoff, president of the European Jewish Congress, told the seminar: "We bring a message today and that message is a warning to Europe. Anti-Semitism and prejudice have returned. The monster is here with us once again."

In recent years, there has been a rise in desecration of Jewish property and attacks on Jews in Europe, notably in France, where attacks peaked in 2002 when a Marseilles synagogue was burned to the ground.

While there was no comparison to the official anti-Semitism of some European governments of the 1930s, Prodi acknowledged: "We do hear expressions of anti-Semitic prejudice. We do see vestiges of the historical anti-Semitism that was once widespread in Europe."

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