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EU plans anti-Semitism seminar
First such seminar organized in 2004 following publication of poll showing Europeans believe Israel biggest threat to world peace

BRUSSELS European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini is said to consider the idea of a second seminar on anti-Semitism in Europe. However, no final decision has been made and dates have not been set.


The plan was put forward last Thursday by Cobi Benatoff, president of the Paris-based European Jewish Congress (EJC), at a meeting with Commissioner Frattini.


Benatoff was accompanied by Maram Stern, a representative of the World Jewish Congress in Brussels.


The first such seminar was organised by the European Commission and the European Jewish Congress in February 2004. It was triggered by the publication of an opinion poll which showed that Europeans believe Israel is the biggest threat to world peace.


At the time Benatoff and his counterpart at the World Jewish Congress alleged that the Romano Prodi’s administration at the European Commission was guilty of fuelling anti-Semitism in Europe “by action and inaction”.


In a recent press release Benatoff said that there was a clear need for a second seminar.


“Now we need to reach out to the wider public. We need to enlist Europe’s citizens in the struggle against hatred,” he said.


Lack of follow-up


Although participants at last year’s seminar generally supported the Commission’s organisation of the event, critics said it did not result in any concrete action to stop anti-Semitism.


“These meetings are very diplomatic, they are useless because there is no impact, no follow-up, no efficiency,” Françoise Atlan, a Parisian psychotherapist who attended last year’s seminar, told EJP.


“Since then, we have experienced a rise in anti-Semitic acts, particularly in Paris. All this has to do with the continued confusion between Jew, Israel and the Middle East,” she said.


Simon Kohana, president of the French “Jewish Citizen Forum”, was also disappointed.


“The conference has cautiously avoided naming the authors of anti-Semitic acts as belonging to the Muslim world,” he stated.


“Rather than denouncing the teaching of hatred against Jews in some circles in Europe, Romano Prodi, the (then) President of the European Commission blamed anti-Semitic delinquency on social frustration,” he said.


Anti-racism law


Frattini’s spokesman, Friso Roscam Abbing, told EJP that the fight against racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism was one of Frattini’s priorities.


But he added that before organising a second seminar on anti-Semitism, Frattini wants the EU to take two “important steps”: the creation of an EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and the harmonisation of EU anti-racism laws.


“With these two instruments, we will have something concrete to discuss at a conference on anti-Semitism,” Roscam Abbing said.


The Commission has been trying to harmonise anti-racism legislation in Europe since 2001. Until now its plans have been opposed by several member states who are concerned that such laws could infringe freedom of expression.


The complexity of the EU’s harmonisation efforts was again underscored last week when EU justice ministers dropped a plan to pass a Europe-wide ban on Nazi symbols.


EJC secretary-general Serge Cwajgenbaum told EJP that the European Commission will hold a working meeting on the fight against anti-Semitism in Europe and related issues on 17 March.


The meeting will be attended by representatives of several European Commission Directorate Generals involved in questions of justice and human rights, as well as representatives of Eurobarometer, the European Commission sector for public opinion analysis.


The possibility of organising a second seminar on anti-Semitism is likely to be one of the topics on the agenda.


- Article published by arrangement with European Jewish Press, a pan-European news agency based in Belgium


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