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There were more anti-Semitic incidents in 2009 than in any year since World War II, according to an annual Jewish Agency report released yesterday.

During the first three months of 2009, immediately following Israel's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, there were as many anti-Semitic incidents recorded as there had been for the entire year of 2008.

"With the start of the operation, a wave of acts of anti-Semitism started across the world," the report said, referring to last winter's Operation Cast Lead, during which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

In France, for example, 631 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the first half of 2009, compared with 474 for all of 2008.

According to the report on anti-Semitism, which the Jewish Agency conducted jointly with the Information and Diaspora Ministry, nearly half of Western Europeans believe Jews exploit their past persecution in order to extort money.

The report, published ahead of the January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that 42 percent of those polled by the University of Bielefeld in Germany agreed that "Jews exploit the past to extort money." The countries in which the highest percentage of the population agreed with that statement were Poland and Spain.

The report indicates that in 2009 there were two murders linked with anti-Semitism in the United States - one involving a female university student in Connecticut and the other a non-Jewish guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C.

This rise in anti-Semitism stems from both the political left and right, the Jewish Agency says.

At the press conference yesterday at which the report was released, officials referred to a film that has been making the rounds in recent days, accusing Israel of stealing organs at the field hospital set up by the Israel Defense Forces in Haiti.

According to the report, the expressions of anti-Semitism consisted of acts of violence, the burning of synagogues, the defacing of cemeteries and Holocaust memorials, as well as verbal assaults.

The report also considered acts that sought to "delegitimize" Israel as anti-Semitic, including some protests against Israeli policies.

"Most of the incidents reflected longstanding and known anti-Semitic ideas, but were extreme, intensive and louder than before," the report stated. "Many of the expressions of anti-Semitism in 2009 created a total link between Israelis and Jews."

"It is hard nowadays to tell the difference between anti-Israeli attacks in Europe and the United States, as well as other places in the world, and anti-Semitic attacks," Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein wrote in the report's introduction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said anti-Semitism in its current form "is mixed with a new intention of trying to deny the Jewish state the right to self-defense."

The prime minister and President Shimon Peres will leave today for a three-day trip to Poland, during which time they will participate in the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz as well as ceremonies marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday.