By News Agencies
Haaretz — Anti-Semitism is rising at a rate unseen since the end of World War Two, fuelled in part by an explosion of hate sites on the Internet, Jewish leaders told an international conference on intolerance Monday.
From just one Web site in 1985, there were now more than 4,000 promoting terrorism, hate and historical revisionism, according to a report released at the conference held at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the UN scientific and cultural body.
The three-day conference, which plans to combat anti-Semitism through “education for tolerance”, is attended by religious leaders and experts, as well as political representatives including Minister for Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky; U.S. congressman Robert Beauprez, Republican of Colorado; and France’s Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
Also scheduled to attend are the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello and former NATO commander in Europe General Wesley Clark.
“Not since the end of World War Two has the world seen such a proliferation of anti-Semitism,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center which preserves the memory of the Holocaust, said in a conference address.
“I believe that you have a new generation of professional haters who are serving as leaders, demagogues, and they’re inspiring young people to do their bidding while they often hide,” he told journalists earlier.
Hier cited cartoons in Western newspapers and a range of comments by leading Arab officials as evidence of the rise in anti-Semitism.
It was wrong to blame poverty or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the upsurge, which could only be confronted by speaking out, he said.
“There is nothing new about the oldest hatred,” he said. “Some will hide behind what Israel is doing … but those are just excuses, that’s a ruse.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal center, presented a report detailing 4,000 international Web sites that he said promote terrorism, hatred or Holocaust denial.
“We are seeing now a very sophisticated manipulation of the Internet by terrorists and their supporters,” he said. “They are ahead of the curve in understanding the possibilities of the Internet.”
But protesters outside, including many Jews and members of the Americans Against the War coalition, said Cooper had deliberately excluded radical Zionist groups from the list.
In a letter to the conference host, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, the protesters said the Wiesenthal center, “under the deceitful cover of the struggle against anti-Semitism, is on the contrary encouraging intolerance and racism in our societies.”
Protesters also denounced the decision to invite Sharansky, who is also in charge of Jerusalem affairs, claiming he “is avidly against making even the slightest concession toward the Palestinians.”
Two-thirds of the 313 acts of violence reported in France last year were directed at Jews, Hier said, while in Britain, new figures showed a 75 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
The rise in attacks in France over the past year have been mostly attributed to Muslim youths of North African origin angered by the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told the conference he refused “categorically to explain the madness of anti-Semitism by the situation in the Middle East,” and repeated his “zero tolerance” policy on all racially-motivated attacks.
Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Paris branch said anti-globalization protests had degenerated into attacks “on what they see as the vultures of society [who] are in most cases the United States and the Jewish people.”
“They have taken the old stereotypes and simply modernized them … thereby proliferating and having a multiplier effect they were never able to do in previous decades,” he said.
In his opening remarks, Matsuura said efforts to combat anti-Semitism include promoting unbiased teaching, revising school textbooks to reflect universal values and introducing classes on religious, ethnic and racial tolerance.
Beauprez said “Americans are all acutely aware of the devastating impact that hate crimes … have on innocent communities.”
He said he had come to Paris to “express on behalf of the American people our solidarity with the victims of these [hate] crimes in France and wherever they have occurred.”