JERUSALEM - Anti-Semitic incidents in western Europe peaked to a level not seen since the close of World War II, according to numbers released by the Jewish Agency on Sunday, three days before the commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The data showed a spike in anti-Semitic violence during and after the IDF's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last winter.
During the first three months of 2009 - part of which included the IDF operation in Gaza - more anti-Semitic incidents (including anything from verbal threats to violent attacks) took place in western Europe than during all of 2008.
In France, 631 incidents occurred in the first half of 2009, compared with 431 in 2008. In Britain, some 600 anti-Semitic incidents took place during 2009.
In the Netherlands, some one hundred incidents were noted following the Gaza incursion, the same number as the country had witnessed the entire previous year.
Additionally, the agency data noted that election campaigns in Ukraine and Hungary gave way to public displays of anti-Semitism, which surfaced as tools for the competing political parties. In Ukraine, a story surfaced during that country's election campaign that Israel had brought 25,000 Ukrainian children to the Jewish state for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs.
Such stories also spurred the agency to warn of what they called the appearance of the "modern blood libel" - a concept that at its root began in European countries during the Middle Ages and ran the gamut from accusing Jews of using Christian children's blood for Pessah matzos, to outright charges of human sacrifice or cold-blooded murder.
The data, which was released as part of an annual report on global anti-Semitism, was presented during a press conference at the Jewish Agency's main offices in Jerusalem, and included comments from Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, the head of the agency's Task Force on anti-Semitism Amos Hermon, and agency spokesman Gil Litman.
"Classical anti-Semitism is changing, and it's been replaced with a new anti-Semitism, which takes its shape in the form of unbridled attacks against the idea of a Jewish state," Sharansky said at the start of the conference.
After describing initial disagreement over that assessment from those who accused the agency of "blurring the lines between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism," Sharansky clarified the statement with a list of criteria that he said constituted illegitimate criticism of Israel.
"We've identified [such criteria] through a '3-D principle'," he said,"demonization, delegitimization and a double standard. And if you look at anti-Semitism throughout the ages, we see these principles at play as well - the demonization of Jews, the delegitimization of the Jews as a nation, and a double standard towards Jews as a people and a religion."
All three of those criteria, Sharansky added, were alive and well the world over, specifically in Europe.
Sharansky warned that beginning with the appearance of an article in the Swedish daily tabloid Aftonbladet in August, which accused IDF soldiers of harvesting organs from Palestinians during military operations, the "modern blood libel" was now returning, and recreating the same image of its original, medieval predecessor.
Sharansky also pointed to the Ukrainian story as evidence of the blood libel's return, along with an incident last week, in which an American man posted a video on Youtube accusing the IDF of harvesting organs from Haitian survivors of that country's catastrophic earthquake. The IDF has been in Haiti since the quake struck nearly two weeks ago, providing much-needed medical assistance to survivors.
The report went on to list Iran and Venezuela as the world's most anti-Semitic countries, and warned of the strengthening ties between extreme left-wing activists and Islamists, as well as more tolerance shown to Muslim acts of hate against Jews.
Although much of the press conference focused on the worrying data, Sharansky and his counterparts added that they were using the new information as an opportunity to step up vigilance in combating anti-Semitism.
While the bulk of the initiatives they announced included drawing on existing groups and individuals to make progress in the fight against anti-Semitism, Sharansky also presented a plan to augment the number of emissaries engaged in public diplomacy in large universities overseas. While there are currently 19 such emissaries, Sharansky said that he wanted that number to exceed 100.
Additionally, Sharansky said that creating new avenues for fighting anti-Semitism might not be the best method, while existing efforts could still be consolidated and better-integrated with one another.
"Anti-Semitism is a very old phenomenon," he said. "And so is the fight against it. We're not trying to create anything new here, but revamp the efforts we've already extended."
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