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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Prediction 3: An increase in anti-Semitism

Anti-Jewish Acts Appear on Rise Incidents Not Limited to Europe
By DON MELVIN - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ilford, England --- One day last summer, Rabbi Alex Chapper was walking home from his synagogue with three friends when he realized they were being followed by a group of teenagers.

The youths began throwing rocks. One shouted, "We're Pakistani. You're Jewish. We're going to kill you!"

One of Chapper's friends was punched in the face. Another was hit on the head with a plastic bottle and suffered a cut and a black eye before the youths ran off.

Chapper, who is 32, did not encounter bias as a child in northwest London. But things have changed. Even as Europe's growing Muslim population points to rising prejudice --- called "Islamophobia" by Muslim leaders --- anti-Jewish incidents are increasing, as well.

Research shows that the increase has been fueled not only by the ultra-right racism that has scarred Europe in the past, perpetrated by people who hate Muslim and Jew alike, but also by people who hold a specific grudge against Israel.

Britain's chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, warned this month on BBC Radio that "a kind of tsunami of anti-Semitism" is spreading around the world.

"A number of rabbinical colleagues throughout Europe have been assaulted and attacked on the streets," he said. "We've had synagogues desecrated. We've had Jewish schools burn to the ground --- not here but in France."

Statistics compiled by the Washington-based World Jewish Congress support Sacks' assertion that anti-Jewish violence is increasing, at least in some areas. In France, the organization reported, major violent incidents rose from 62 in 2003 to 96 in 2004; and in Germany, home of the world's fastest-growing Jewish community, the number of major violent incidents rose from 34 to 50.

Significant increases were also reported in Russia and Canada.

In Moscow on Wednesday, a 20-year-old man described as a skinhead burst into a synagogue, shouted, "I will kill you," and stabbed eight people before being wrestled to the ground by the rabbi and his son. No one was killed but four people were reported in serious condition.

In Britain, the danger to Jews is growing, too. According to the Security Community Trust, a registered charity organization that works with the police to collect data on anti-Jewish incidents, 532 such incidents were reported in Britain in 2004, the last year for which numbers are available.

It is nearly double the number from 1999, and a 42 percent jump in just one year. Eighty-three of the incidents were assaults, four of which were classified as "extreme violence," in which the victim's life was endangered.

Mark Gardner, a spokesman for the Security Community Trust, said the increase is tied to the most recent round of Israeli-Palestinian violence, which began late in 2000.

Records show that anti-Jewish incidents have spiked after events such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States; the subsequent U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that same year; the allegations of an Israeli massacre in the West Bank city of Jenin and the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Such events, Gardner said, "excite a mood of scapegoating and anger and political violence, primarily among Muslims."

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, disputed that conclusion. Shadjareh said the Security Community Trust's strong support for Israel leads it to skew its reporting.

He said his organization works with other Jewish leaders to combat the myth that all Jews support Israel's policies, which he likened to the myth that all Muslims and Osama bin Laden "are interchangeable."

Still, a daily perusal of the news shows that anti-Jewish sentiment exists and is sometimes virulent.

This past week, jurors in the trial of the radical west London Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, on charges of encouraging murder and fomenting racial hatred, heard taped sermons in which he encouraged his followers to kill Jews and other non-Muslims.

But Rabbi Chapper said most Muslim clerics are appalled by anti-Jewish sentiment. Some met with him after he was attacked to cooperate on ways of decreasing the violence. The youths who attacked him and his friend were "clearly disassociated from their own communities," and did not appear religious, he said.

While he hears anti-Jewish shouts from passing cars from time to time, relations between Muslims and Jews in Ilford tend to be good.

"In general," he said, "it's a very harmonious existence."

Still, with Europe's growing Muslim community, life can be intimidating for a Jew. Chapper still walks from the synagogue to his home, 15 minutes away, but he spends a lot of time looking over his shoulder.

"The Jewish community in this country is a tiny, tiny minority," he said. "The Muslim community is huge."
 

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