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Prodi says anti-Semitism not at level of 1930s
Updated: 2004-02-20 09:01

Comparing modern anti-Semitism to that of the 1930s is an insult to the victims of the Holocaust, European Commission President Romano Prodi said on Thursday after a top U.S. diplomat had seemed to make the link.

But Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Prodi and others said action was needed to halt the resurgence of anti-semitism, which Wiesel called a "European disease."

"The Jewish communities in Europe live in fear," Wiesel said. He said some people had whispered their fears to him. "The question is not 'should we leave' but 'when should we leave'."

Cobi Benatoff, president of the European Jewish Congress, said: "The monster is here with us one more time."

But Prodi said anti-semitism today differs from what occurred six decades ago.

"Europe today is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s and to say that would be quite wrong -- we must not insult the memory of the Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust) by equating what is happening today...with what happened then," he said.

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, this month said anti-Semitism was "getting to a point where it is as bad as it was in the '30s." The U.S. embassy later sought to soften his remarks.

The Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews of Europe in the Holocaust of World War II during the 1930s and '40s, killing six million.

In recent years synagogues and Jewish schools in France have been attacked repeatedly. Authorities link such problems to poor Muslim youths angered by Israel's tough policies against Palestinian unrest.

"French Jews are wondering about their future. It has reached worrying proportions," said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris. "There is also a growing Islamophobia."


German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that if the majority failed to speak out and anti-Semitism was ignored, "you end up with murder."

He won some of the biggest applause of the day by striking a note of optimism. He took pride in the reconciliation efforts of Turkish and Greek Cypriots as Cyprus prepares to join the EU.

"It is not the hard power but the soft power of the EU" that jolted Cyprus into settling its 30-year-old conflict, he said. "The answer to the Middle East may lie in Europe -- we are now direct neighbors of the Middle East conflict."

The language of cooperation at the conference was in contrast to the rows which marked its birth.

Prodi proposed the seminar in November following the outrage of Jewish groups over publication of a Commission opinion poll. The poll found more EU citizens saw Israel as a threat to world peace than any other country, including Iran and North Korea.

Prodi in turn was outraged in January when world Jewish leaders accused the Commission itself of anti-Semitism. He called off planning for the seminar, but after some highly public disputes the two sides made up.

Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky expressed a concern of many at the conference when he said they must make certain that criticism of Israel was not used as a cover for anti-Semitism.

He said the rough-and-tumble of democracy required criticism, but critics who compare Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Adolf Hitler and Palestinian refugee camps to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz don't know or care about history.

"This demonization under the pretence of criticism is anti-Semitism," he said.

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