European Union leaders said Friday they were deeply concerned by rising anti-Semitism and condemned all anti-Semitic attacks against religious sites and individuals.
The leaders made the remarks in a statement during a two-day summit in Brussels, which was largely devoted to negotiations over the group’s first-ever constitution.
It was the first joint statement by EU leaders on the subject of anti-Semitism since the leaking of an EU-commissioned study which found that most anti-Jewish attacks are carried out by Muslims.
The findings of the study were shelved by the European body, despite calls for its publication by the study’s authors, Jewish groups on the continent and Israel.
An EU survey of 7,500 Europeans earlier in the year found 59 percent consider Israel a threat to world peace, a higher percentage of respondents than those who believed Iran and North Korea a threat.
The poll caused an uproar in Israel and angered Jewish groups around the globe. Many Israelis viewed it as an example of what they perceive as anti-Israel bias in Europe.
Some European leaders had individually expressed surprise and indignation after the results were released.
The EU expressed “deep concern at the increase in instances of anti-Semitic intolerance and strongly condemns all manifestations of anti-Semitism, including attacks against religious sites and individuals.”
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who serves as EU president, said the statement by the group was “unequivocal.”
Ahead of the summit, which opened Friday, Jewish groups, including the European Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, had urged the EU to take up the issue of anti-Semitism.
Report sees link between anti-Semitism and intifada
On Thursday, an official French government report submitted by an Interior Ministry-sponsored task committee concluded that there was a rise in the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” relating to a surge in attacks on European Jews since the start of the intifada in 2000, Israel Radio reported.
The long-awaited report on church-state relations, the center-piece of a national debate over integrating Muslims into French society, advised Paris to stand firm against militant Islamists trying to undermine official secularism.
“This anti-Semitism is real in our country,” commission secretary Remy Schwartz said. “We found children have to leave public schools in some areas because they are not physically secure… This has profoundly shocked the commission.”
The committee stated that for the first time, the number of attacks on Jews surpassed the number of racist attacks on any other minority last year, Israel Radio reported.
According to the French report, wearing a skullcap in the street or on public transportation could be dangerous, and the expression “dirty Jew” has become common in schoolyards. Many Jewish students and teachers have left the public education system for Jewish and Catholic private schools because of the racial problems they encountered, the report found.
The report also concluded that the rise in anti-Semitism is nourished by media images of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The authors emphasized that despite feelings of rage or solidarity with one of the sides, the conflict cannot be brought into other aspects of French society.
It also urged traditionally Catholic France to respect “all spiritual options” in its ever more diverse society and stressed that sexual equality was a key criterion in deciding whether certain practices were considered acceptable.
The report found that France should ban Muslim veils, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses from its public schools, while creating new holidays to respect holy days of minority religions.
President Jacques Chirac said he would announce next Wednesday whether he would seek a law banning the veil, now a major issue in France amid concern of failed Muslim integration and growing Islamist influence. He has hinted he backs a ban.
France, once so Catholic it was called “the eldest daughter of the Church,” is now eight percent Muslim and Islam is its second-largest religion. But eight of its 13 national holidays are based on Christian feasts such as Christmas and Easter.
Its five-million-strong Muslim community and its 600,000 Jews are both the largest minorities of their kind in Europe.