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European Jews see new wave of anti-Semitism as world looks back

PARIS—For the past four years—as friends erased "Dirty Jew" graffiti from their office plaques and her French-born daughter puzzled over "go back where you belong" comments from strangers on the street—Evelyne Chiche has spent a piece of each day wondering if she was living in the wrong country.

This spring, the 62-year-old Jewish radio host plans to move to Miami. "I think it's important for my grandchildren here that I move, to provide them with a safe place should they need to get away," she said, waiting until a nearby businessman left the restaurant before talking about being Jewish. "France has changed."

On Thursday, 27 world leaders—a king and queen, presidents and prime ministers—will gather in Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, where 1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered.

But as the world focuses on the past, an increasing number of European Jews are concerned, to quote Sammy Ghozlan, a retired Calais police chief who now investigates anti-Semitic crimes, that "After decades of peace, the old taboos against anti-Semitism are broken. There is no future here for a Jew."

Nobody maintains that Europe is again suffering the kind of hatred that gave rise to Auschwitz and other death camps that claimed 6 million Jews in Adolf Hitler's mad rush to his "final solution" to the "Jewish problem."

But the rise in anti-Semitism, chronicled in upward trend lines of European reports on attacks and threats against Jews, has prompted open concern in a continent whose history, from the Spanish Inquisition and medieval ghettos to the Dreyfuss affair and Hitler's rise, is riven with attacks on Jews.

In the past few months a Jewish school has been firebombed in suburban Paris, Jewish gravestones have been painted with swastikas in Germany, France and Russia, and Jews have been verbally abused, spat on and beaten in England and France.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, an international Jewish human-rights organization, calls the wave of violence "the largest onslaught against European synagogues and Jewish schools since Kristallnacht," the night in 1938 when Nazi sympathizers stormed the shops and homes of Jews throughout Germany, smashing property and beating people. Nearly 100 Jews were killed.

This week, leaders throughout Europe have taken pains to use the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz as a pledge not to forget or repeat the atrocities. On Tuesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told a gathering of Holocaust survivors, "Never again should anti-Semites succeed in haunting and hurting Jewish citizens and bringing shame over our nation."

Still, Deidre Berger, the director of the American Jewish Council in Berlin, admits to an eerie feeling as she tracks studies from around the continent that show rising attacks and threats against Jews. She speaks in an office that's protected by three sets of security doors.

"The medieval stereotypes of Jews—controlling, bloodthirsty, vengeful, unscrupulous—are back," she said.

Why anti-Semitism is growing is open to debate. Ghozlan, who grew up in the Paris suburbs and founded an organization to track anti-Semitic attacks, traces the rise to the Palestinian uprising against Israel that began four years ago. He also thinks that part of the rise is demographic: Arab immigrants now make up about 10 percent of the French population.

Berger echoed Ghozlan and other workers who track anti-Semitism across the continent in saying the Palestinian uprising had fueled anti-Semitism, particularly among leftist political parties. She finds that trend especially worrisome, since it broadens the anti-Semitic base from its traditional repository among neo-Nazi and neo-nationalist movements.

What began as a pro-Palestinian movement turned into an anti-Israel movement then became anti-Jewish, she said.

"The left and the right of the political spectrum can't be divorced from the mainstream," she said. "When the center is so strongly anti-Israel, it gives license to the extremes."

There are no official statistics on what percentage of anti-Semitic acts have been committed by ethnic Arabs. In France, for example, it's illegal even officially to quantify the population by ethnic categories.

Comprehensive European figures are also difficult to come by. Figures collected by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, the European Union's clearinghouse for data on the subject, show an uptick in attacks since 2000, though the most recent report contains comprehensive statistics only through 2002.

Tracking anti-Semitism also is complicated because each country has a different way of collecting statistics and a different way of defining an anti-Semitic crime. For example, uttering the words "the Jews should be gassed" is a crime in Germany, while in Belgium the threshold is much higher.

Still, the trend seems clear. In Germany, according to statistics from the Federal Office for Internal Security, crimes "with an anti-Semitic background" grew from 817 in 1999 to 1,334 in 2002. More ominous may be the increase in the number of crimes German police described as violent: from 16 percent of the total in 1999 to 28 percent in 2002.

In Belgium, police recorded a 72 percent increase in anti-Semitic acts from 2000 to 2002, from 36 to 62. The Netherlands reported 46 cases of anti-Semitic violence in 2002.

Nowhere is the trend more visible than in France, where numbers from the Interior Ministry show that anti-Semitic acts—attacks and threats—reached a high of 1,513 in 2004, up from 593 the previous year. And Jewish groups say most anti-Semitic acts aren't reported.

Ghozlan said it was understandable that France would be the focus of Europe's anti-Semitic tensions. It's home to both Europe's largest Jewish population, 600,000, and its largest Muslim population, about 6 million.

French President Jacques Chirac speaks urgently about the need to fight anti-Semitism and has formed high-level committees to study it. He's said there's no need for Jews to leave France.

Yet concern remains high among many Jews that anti-Semitism is growing faster than officials are willing to acknowledge.

Ghozlan founded the Bureau Against Anti-Semitism in France in the fall of 2001 and began logging incidents that the police hadn't categorized as anti-Semitic. When he began, he figured it would be a short-lived diversion. But more than three years into it, he can't see the workload lessening.

"In the beginning, buildings were the victims," he said. "So security was increased, and the buildings are fortresses now. But people—on the Metro (subway), in school, at work, on the sidewalk—are not safe, and the phone calls come every day."

Sylvie Rasset, a lifelong Parisian, is another one who worries. Last April, her 17-year-old son was riding a city bus home when a group of Arab-looking young men—guessing his heritage—forced "the dirty Jew" off the bus at knifepoint, before beating, kicking and spitting on him as he lay on the sidewalk.

"He worries about leaving the house since then," she said. "I do too. I have two years before retirement, but when that has passed, we will move, to Israel or the United States, but away from the fear."

In 2004, the number of French Jews immigrating to Israel rose by 15 percent, to about 2,400, according to Emmanuel Weintraub, executive committee member for a coalition of Jewish groups in France. There are no similar figures for how many may have left for the United States or elsewhere, but Weintraub said talk of leaving France was a constant source of conversation among Jews.

He maintains that while he's convinced the French government is working on the problem, concern is warranted.

"I equate today's problems to the anti-Semitism of 120 years ago," he said. "This is not progress. People everywhere are wondering if there is a Jewish future in Europe. The question is not easily answered."

The concern is common.

"More and more, we hear that while we're doing a very good job of being concerned about dead Jews, there's not much interest is dealing with the issues of living ones," said Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a journalist who tracks the rise in anti-Semitism for a number of European publications. "Nobody would say that Paris 2005 is Berlin 1935. But there is an increasing feeling here that nobody really cares about what happens to the Jews."

Added Ghozlan: "I would very much like to say that our work will result in a change for the better in France, but I am a pessimist. Look, Jews in France come from families who either survived the Holocaust or were chased from northern Africa. This does not breed optimism."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050126 ANTISEMITISM, 20050124 Auschwitz, 20050120 Auschwitz

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