Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The State Department's first report on global anti-Semitism sends an important message to the rest of the world, Jewish groups said on Friday.
The report, which takes a country-by-country survey of anti-Semitism worldwide, covers the period from July 1, 2003 to Dec. 15, 2004, and it was released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on Wednesday.
Mandated by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, it was presented to the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on International Relations at the end of last year.
"The U.S. Government is committed to monitoring and combating anti-Semitism throughout the world as an important human rights and religious freedom issue," the report says.
"As President Bush said when he signed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act on October 16, 2004, 'Defending freedom also means disrupting the evil of anti-Semitism.'"
Jewish groups welcomed the report.
The very fact that Congress enacted legislation requiring the State Department to issue yearly reports is "extremely important and highly significant," said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.
"It means that the only super-power in the world was sufficiently concerned to enable its representatives to collect information and provide reports [on anti-Semitism]," Zuroff said. "It sends a very important and powerful message to the rest of the world."
It puts the subject on the agenda for every U.S. embassy in the world, Zuroff said. Because America has given that mandate to its embassies, that means they have created a mechanism to speak to local officials around the world, he added.
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman applauded American leaders for "recognizing that anti-Semitism is a serious and growing problem and for addressing it as manifested today..."
"The publication of this report is yet another demonstration of America's resolve to take practical and meaningful action to highlight both problems and progress," Foxman said in a statement.
"It also underscores the need for countries to monitor and combat anti-Semitism on their own. We hope that this will encourage states to develop uniform monitoring standards and mechanisms to help identify and respond to anti-Semitic incidents," he said.
"One of the most important features of the report is that it accepts the assertion made by Israel and Jewish organizations that criticism of Israel [often] becomes anti-Semitic," Zuroff said.
The report defines anti-Semitism as hatred of Jews as individuals or as a group "attributed to the Jewish religion and/or ethnicity."
"An important issue is the distinction between legitimate criticism of policies and practices of the State of Israel and commentary that assumes an anti-Semitic character.
"The demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue," the report says.
The report also highlights a significant increase in European anti-Semitism in recent years, including verbal abuse and vandalism (graffiti, fire bombings of Jewish schools, desecration of synagogues and cemeteries and even physical assaults).
It identifies far-right groups in Western Europe as well as "disadvantaged and disaffected Muslim youths" as being responsible for a significant number of the attacks in Western Europe, while skinheads and other "radical political fringe" elements as being most responsible in Eastern Europe.
Although there are only very small Jewish communities in Middle Eastern countries, the official media, particularly in Syria, often "crosses the line separating the legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies to become anti-Semitic vilification posing as political commentary," it said.
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