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Criticism of Israeli policies brings cry of anti-Semitism

By Karin Laub
The Associated Press

JERUSALEM Where does legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy end and anti-Semitism begin? There's always been sharp disagreement in Israel over where to draw the line, but the debate assumed greater urgency in recent weeks.

First, the Malaysian prime minister claimed that Jews dominate Analysis the world, to the applause of Muslim heads of state. Next, a poll found 59 percent of Europeans consider Israel a threat to peace, ahead of rogue nations such as North Korea. And last week, Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, in condemning Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, called Israel "the root of evil."

Israeli officials and media reports linked those attacks to what they see as a tide of anti-Semitism, and the prime minister and foreign minister are flying to Europe this week to raise their concerns. The issue will top the agenda of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's meeting with his Italian counterpart.

"In some quarters in Europe, we are witnessing a vilifying wave of anti-Semitism, coupled with hatred and incitement against Israel," said Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin. "Because it is not politically correct to say you hate Jews, you say you hate Israel."

But some critics of the hard-line Sharon government, which has ordered tough measures against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza during three years of fighting, say its representatives and supporters are trying to duck legitimate criticism of Israel by branding it as evidence of anti-Semitism.

"We are not the victims anymore. We are conducting a very oppressive policy in the territories, and the world doesn't like it," said Tom Segev, an Israeli author who has written extensively on the Holocaust. "You have a new generation in Europe that is less afraid today to voice criticism of Israel."

Israel itself has helped blur the issue and implicated Jews elsewhere in its actions by defining itself as the representative of the Jewish people, said Moshe Zimmermann, a history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is widespread in Europe. Some analysts say Europeans are trying to atone for their own past oppression of colonized peoples.

Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff said that as part of a pro-Palestinian bias, Europe has judged Israel by a higher standard than other countries, including Arab dictatorships.

  "Part of this is a desire of Europeans to finally free themselves of the guilt of the Holocaust. That's why they are making this comparison, of Israel as the new Nazis," he said.

Muslim immigration to Western Europe, particularly to France, Britain and Germany, has intensified the problem, with Islamic anti-Semitism coupling with the "classic" European variety, said Zuroff, head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Zuroff said European governments often shun confrontation with Islamic fundamentalists, for fear of inviting terror attacks on their soil.

Gissin, Sharon's adviser, drew a line from what he said was a hate campaign against Israel to Saturday's synagogue bombings in Istanbul.

But the position is not unanimously accepted.

Ephraim Halevy, the former chief of the Mossad spy agency, said the connection was at best indirect.

"Those who carried out these attacks (in Turkey) did not require a wave of anti-Semitism in Europe" to do so, he told Israel Radio.

Copyright 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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