Anti-Semitism stirs concern at US congress hearings

Members of the US congress heard concern Wednesday over an apparent rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and Arab countries that one lawmaker called "unparalleled since the dark ages" of World War II.

"Jewish communities on a global scale are facing verbal harassment, and sometimes violent attacks against synagogues, Jewish cultural sites, cemeteries and individuals," said the congressman, Chris Smith.

"It is an ugly reality that won't go away by ignoring or wishing it away. It must be defeated," added Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who chairs the House of Representative's global human rights sub-committee.

About a dozen witnesses from Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations testified on Capitol Hill, including Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First who said: "Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish issue, it is a human rights issue."

Andrew Srulevitch, director of European affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, cited a 2012 poll which he said pointed to "dangerously high levels in the overall level of anti-Semitism" in several European countries.

He cited by name Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Spain, adding that "modest increases" in anti-Semitism were also recorded in other countries in comparison to a survey three years previously.

Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said Western nations were being "directly impacted" by anti-Semitism emanating from the Arab Spring protests that flared up two years ago.

"With the tumult in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the ascent of Islamist movements has not brought a real spring but rather the empowerment of new autocrats who wield Islamist thought," he said.

Like fallen Arab dictators before them, "secular fascists" in those Middle Eastern countries are using national media "to propagate anti-Semitism in an 'us versus them' mentality," he told the subcommittee.

"They also effectively demonized Zionism in order to lift up pan-Arabism as a tool to keep the masses from questioning their authority."

To counter the trend, witnesses proposed better education, tougher laws and stricter penalties for those involved in anti-Semitism, while Smith suggested national leaders pay visits to synagogues in their respective capital cities.

Smith, the longtime co-chair of the House Bipartisan Committee for Combating Anti-Semitism, is in the process of drafting legislation to breathe new life in to a previous US law on anti-Semitism.