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Geneva considered for centre to fight anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitic acts such as graveyard desecrations would be examined by the centre Keystone Archive

Israel is considering Geneva as the seat for a new global anti-Semitism commission to combat what it says is an increase in hatred against Jews.

This content was published on January 9, 2002 - 17:21

The plan to establish the International Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism (ICA) was announced in Jerusalem this week by the Israeli deputy foreign minister, Michael Melchior. The seat of the new centre will be in Geneva, New York or Jerusalem.

"Of course, Geneva is being considered because it is a centre for the United Nations and other international organisations, and at the centre of Europe," Yaakov Levy, the Israeli ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told swissinfo.

At the moment, the commission is virtual, but Levy says it will probably be up and running later this year. Melchior is expected to give more details about the new body when he visits Geneva in March for a meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission.

Non-Jewish body

Israel already has some international support for its plan. The Canadian politician and academic Irwin Cotler and the former Swedish deputy prime minister, Per Ahlmark, are participating in the project.

Unveiling the new commission, Melchior pointed out that anti-Semitism was not only a threat to Jews, but to civilisation and democracy: "It always begins with the Jews, and never ends with the Jews," he said, adding that he wanted the majority of the overall body to be non-Jewish.

The minister said it had become necessary to devise a new strategy to combat a new form of anti-Semitism, emanating from Arab countries, and particularly the Gulf region.

New kind of anti-Semitism

"We are noticing a new kind of anti-Semitism, which uses television, satellite, the internet to spout hatred of the Jews. These are means which did not exist in such a manifest and widespread manner just 10 years ago," Levy said.

Levy said that in the past year to 18 months, an increase in anti-Semitism had been detected in Europe too, with attacks on synagogues and people wearing distinctive Jewish clothing. This, he suggested, was an "evident spill-over from tensions in the Middle East".

The ambassador rejected suggestions that the commission would be a tool to promote Israeli policies, though he acknowledged that that could be a welcome by-product.

There would be a certain irony should Israel decide to choose Geneva as the location of the new centre because of its reputation as a place where human rights are defended.

Protecting civilians

Last month, at a conference in Geneva, the international community criticised Israel for failing to respect the Fourth Geneva Convention - on protecting civilians during military occupation - in the Palestinian territories.

Israel, the first country to be singled out in this way, saw the conference as yet another attempt by Arab and Muslim countries to blacken its name. It accused them of using a tool of international humanitarian law for political purposes.

But the issue once again raised the thorny issue of where legitimate criticism of the Israeli government ends and anti-Semitism begins. Indeed one of the things the new anti-Semitism commission wants to combat is the "demonisation of Israel".

"We have no gripe with anyone who has a valid criticism of a given Israeli policy," Levy told swissinfo.

"But when you cross a certain border - television programmes showing Ariel Sharon's hands dripping with blood, comparing him to Dracula, drinking the blood of innocent Arabs - this is a crossover from legitimate criticism into deep anti-Semitic myths and evils," he added.

by Roy Probert

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