Wiesel warns of rising anti-Semitism, 'not only in Europe'
BERLIN - "Anti-Semitism is clearly on the rise... but not only in Europe," Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel warned in a speech to an international conference on anti-Semitism on Wednesday in Berlin.
The summit, called by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and attended by 600 top officials from 55 nations, remained split Wednesday on whether criticism of Israel should be seen as a form of anti-Jewish bias, amid warnings Jews faced growing threats.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the meeting that while censure of Israel was legitimate, "the line is crossed" when critics employ Nazi symbolism to do so.
"It is not anti-Semitism to criticize the State of Israel," Powell said, "but the line is crossed when the leaders of Israel are demonized or vilified by the use of Nazi symbols."
The conference at the German Foreign Ministry in Nazi Germany's former central bank comes after rising attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in some European countries over past years.
Wiesel noted that while a just solution was needed for the Arab-Israeli conflict, he could never associate himself with those who sent out suicide bombers.
And he bitterly attacked some Muslim nations for, as he put it, making "Jew hating... part of official policy."
Wiesel admitted he was better at posing questions than finding ways to fight anti-Semitism. "If Auschwitz didn't kill anti-Semitism, what can?" he said.
Nevertheless, Wiesel said that holding the conference in Berlin - just a few blocks from where Adolf Hitler plotted the Final Solution - would send out a powerful message to "stop the poison."
Israel swiftly moved to center stage of the meeting, with German officials saying a debate was raging behind the scenes pitting some Arab countries and Turkey against most of the Western nations.
President Moshe Katsav lashed out Wednesday at anti-Semitism in all its forms, calling anti-Jewish sentiment an urgent issue of global proportions.
"Any revival of anti-Semitism is a matter that affects the entire world," Katsav said told the Berlin summit.
"France is up against a wave of anti-Semitism," said Simone Veil, Auschwitz survivor and former president of the European Parliament.
Katsav's remarks were made after he emerged from talks with German President Johannes Rau, who earlier warned that anti-Semitism is often cloaked in criticism of Israel.
Katzav praised Rau for his remarks, calling the German president "the best friend that Israel has in the world."
Rau opened the meeting by underlining that the Middle East conflict and Israeli policies were playing a growing role in anti-Semitism debate in Europe.
"Everybody knows that massive anti-Semitism has been behind some of the criticism of Israeli government policies in the past decades," said Rau.
But Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said playing the race card was wrong whether used to attack or in defense.
"The exploitation of race for political purposes by any government or any politician, be it as an offensive weapon or as a shield to fend off criticism, is quite simply unacceptable."
A U.S. participant said an important step was made late Tuesday when Russia provisionally accepted the interpretation of anti-Israel criticism as a form of anti-Semitism.
This issue will be a key element of the final declaration the OSCE conference has to adopt unanimously Thursday when the two-day meeting ends.
Criticizing Jews and Jewish institutions was allowed, said Rau, adding, "but we certainly also know that criticism of Jews and Jewish institutions frequently comes from people with deeply held anti-Semitic sentiments."
Other officials attending, including German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, talked about practical matters including beefing up European police cooperation, collecting and publishing national data on anti-Semitic attacks and passing more laws aimed at anti-Semitism in Europe.
OSCE Chairman Solomon Passy stressed that education was the key to rooting out anti-Semitism.
But Veil, the current president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, warned that French schools were faltering in this task as young immigrants from Muslim countries took up what she called "victim competition."
Some French teachers were now declining the teach about the Holocaust for fear of causing controversy with such students, she said.
Summing up the overall situation of Jews in Europe, President Rau underlined that there was clearly a big difference between today's problems and those of the 1930s and 40s.
"Back then the barbarism came from the state - the German state," said Rau, adding that today all European states and the international community staunchly oppose anti-Semitism.