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For Immediate Release: January 23, 2009
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Krista Minteer (212) 845-5207

Human Rights First Condemns Antisemitic Backlash Attacks in Europe

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New York, NY - Human Rights First today expressed concern about the recent wave of incidents of antisemitic violence in a number of European countries targeting Jews and Jewish property in apparent backlash to recent events in Gaza.

"We condemn these attacks which further add to the disturbing rise of antisemitic and other bias-motivated violence across Europe," said Paul LeGendre, the Director of Human Rights First's Fighting Discrimination Program. "International events are never a justification for violence targeting individuals or property on account of race, ethnicity, religion, or other similar factors," added LeGendre.

Human Rights First urges European governments to speak out against any acts of bias-motivated violence targeting Jewish and other communities, conduct thorough investigations, and hold the perpetrators accountable. HRF is also calling on governments to reach out to targeted communities to better ensure the security of individuals and property and to encourage victims to report incidents. The group welcomed French President Nicolas Sarkozy's condemnation of attacks in France, as well as efforts by the local police in many targeted areas in the United Kingdom to reach out to Jewish community leaders and encourage reporting of incidents.

Among the violent incidents that have occurred, some in apparent response to Israeli military action in Gaza:

  • In Belgium, on January 12, an Orthodox Jewish man, traveling on a train with his family, was approached by a group of seven youths who began to insult and hit him as well as one of his children. They also spit on him before leaving the train at the following stop. On January 5, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Beth Hillel synagogue in Brussels, causing damage to the building. On the same day, rocks shattered the windows of a synagogue in Charleroi for the second time in a week. In another incident in Antwerp on January 3, unknown assailants attempted to torch the house of a Jewish family. There have also been reported incidents of vandalism of Jewish-owned shops that have been sprayed with swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti.
  • In France, on the night of January 11, a petrol bomb was thrown at a synagogue in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis and set fire to an adjacent Jewish restaurant. On January 7, a 15-year-old Jewish girl was insulted, knocked to the ground, kicked and punched by a gang of 10 youths in Villiers-le-Bel, north of Paris. Four individuals were arrested and charged in that incident. In Toulouse, a burning car was rammed into a synagogue door, following which the police found remnants of a Molotov cocktail and three unlit Molotov cocktails. Attacks on kosher shops in Bordeaux a synagogue in Toulon, and an apartment and rabbi's car in Paris were also recorded in the first week of January.
  • In the United Kingdom, the Community Security Trust (CST), the leading monitor of antisemitic violence, reported a rising number of incidents in recent weeks, including an arson attack on a synagogue in North West London, an assault on a man pulled from his car, and numerous reports of vandalism against Jewish property.
  • In Sweden, local monitors reported an attempted arson attack on a synagogue in the city of Helsinborg.

Acts of bias-motivated violence often occur in the aftermath of major international or regional events. Events in the Middle East have led to surges in antisemitic violence as antipathy toward Israeli policies has translated into indiscriminate hostility toward all Jews. The Community Security Trust reported a two-fold increase in antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom in July 2006, as compared to incidents in July 2005, that was primarily attributed to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Likewise, significant increases in hate violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim have been recorded following terrorist acts in Europe and North America.

Local political issues, too, can lead to sharp backlash attacks - criminal acts committed by individuals of Roma and immigrant backgrounds have in some cases been used to scapegoat entire communities for a broad range of social ills and have been invoked to incite people to randomly attack innocent members of those communities and other "visible minorities."

"Public officials have the responsibility to respond vigorously to such backlash attacks and make clear that they won’t be tolerated," LeGendre added.

Since 2003, Human Rights First has worked to combat racist, xenophobic, antisemitic, anti-Muslim, homophobic and similar violence throughout Europe and North America by monitoring such violence and encouraging governments to take steps to confront it. More information can be found on HRF's reporting on hate crimes and government responses at: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/discrimination/index.aspx. Some key findings of the 2008 Hate Crime Survey pertaining to antisemitism are summarized in the Fact Sheet on Antisemitic Violence.

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