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Hate crimes conference

by: David Gollust - Last updated: 2004-04-29

Colin Powell

Colin Powell

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell joined foreign ministers and other officials from 55 countries in Berlin Wednesday for a conference on the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. Mr. Powell said opposition to Israeli policies is no excuse for attacks against Jews.

At least some portion of recent attacks on Jewish individuals and property in Europe have been attributed to Muslim youths and others angered by Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

In his policy address to the conference, Mr. Powell said that hate crimes against Jews are just that, crimes, which should be aggressively prosecuted and not shrugged off as side-effects of the Middle East conflict.

"Political disagreements do not justify physical assaults against Jews in our streets, the destruction of Jewish schools or the desecration of synagogues or cemeteries," he said. "There is no justification for anti-Semitism. It is not anti-Semitic to criticize the policies of the state of Israel, but the line is crossed when Israel or its leaders are demonized or vilified, for example, by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures."

Mr. Powell came with a high-level delegation of U.S. congressmen and other leaders, including Holocaust survivor and author Elie Weisel, who also condemned as particularly contemptuous comparisons of Israel's treatment of Palestinians with Nazi atrocities against Jews.

Mr. Weisel, the 1986 Nobel Peace laureate for his writing on the horrors of the Nazi era, stressed the importance of having the conference in the German capital and said he hopes the meeting will produce a powerful message against anti-Semitism in all languages, to everyone in the world.

The meeting, staged by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, is the third international conference in the last year on the issue.

An Israeli watchddog group reported last week that worldwide incidents against Jews and vandalism against Jewish sites increased by 15 percent in 2003 over the previous year, with France, Britain, Russia, Germany and Canada having the highest number of such cases.

Some delegates here expressed concern that anti-Semitism may increase with the expansion of the European Union, contending that the EU's new central and eastern European members have lagged in tackling the problem.

Story supplied by: VOAnews