Israel's prime minister says anti-Semitism is rising in Europe. He remarks follow a number of attacks on Jews and Jewish interests over the past few months. But is anti-Semitism really increasing across the whole of Europe? And is hostility towards Israeli policy in the Middle East leading to anti-Jewish feeling? Sarah Johnson put the question to Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights...
"It can be said, or it has been said certainly that anti-Semitism is part of this picture. It could be part of the picture in so far as Jewish individuals and the Jewish people worldwide are criticised because of the state policies of Israel. So when people don't like the state policies of Israel, they hold Jewish individuals in a sense responsible for these and single them out. I know that there have been cases in which applicants to universities have been rejected by academic departments at these universities because those reviewing the applications don't like Israeli policies."
Why are people making this connection do you think?
"It's a complicated question. I think it stems from the over exposure of Israel in the European media, it stems from a tendency to bias in interpreting the conflict in the Middle East. And it could be said that it reflects a certain anti-Semitic tendency. I think its kind of a two way street. While Jews are blamed for the state policies of Israel, it's also possible that those policies themselves are interpreted in a way that could reflect complex and negative feeling about Jews."
The Israeli Prime Minister recently said that anti-Semitism is rising in Europe. Do you think this is justified?
"Yes I do. It's obviously rising because of the documented increase in anti-semitic incidents."
What is the situation like in Central European countries? We've heard recently about the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries in Slovakia. Is there a problem in central European countries as well?
"I'm not aware of any sort of increase in anti-Semitism in these countries. I think there's a kind of traditional kind of anti-Semitism there which is for the most part an anti-Semitism without Jews."
Do you think then that the countries in the region are dealing with the anti-Semitism that is present?
"I think that you will find that the responsible authorities in these countries denounce these activities and the police try to track down and punish the perpetrators. At the same time, you do find in certain countries, for example in the Ukraine - there's an anti Semitic publication which continues to be printed even though it's probably illegal. Another problem is holocaust denial. In Romania there is a very pronounced tendency to minimize the responsibility of the Romanian people for their co-operation with genocide during World War 2."
What do you think would be the best way to start dealing with this situation then?
"I think there has to be campaigns of public awareness about the subject. And I think there has to be more examples of civic courage and denouncing anti-Semitism and facing up to it."
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