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German parliament votes to step up fight against anti-Semitism

Visitors walk inside the glass dome of the Reichstag building, the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

(reuters_tickers)

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's lower house of parliament on Thursday voted to step up efforts to combat anti-Semitism and called for the creation of a new government post to oversee the issue, backed by an independent panel of experts.

The proposal was jointly introduced and backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party also voted for the measure, while the radical Left party voted against, citing what it called substantive deficiencies in the proposal.

The voice vote, which lays the groundwork for a spate of legislative initiatives during this session of parliament, was welcomed widely by Jewish groups.

Volker Kauder, head of the conservatives in parliament, spoke in favour of the proposal given Germany's Nazi past and the murder of 6 million Jews during the Third Reich.

"We have a particular responsibility to ensure that anti-Semitism does not continue to grow in our country," he said during the parliamentary debate.

Kauder also vowed to examine whether Germany could ban the burning of Israeli flags, following incidents in December during protests against a U.S. decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Anti-Semitism remains a hugely sensitive issue in Germany more than 70 years after the end of the Nazi-era Holocaust.

Jewish and civil rights groups have long called for the appointment of a special commissioner to address growing anti-Semitism, which they say has been fuelled by right-wing populism and the arrival of many migrants from mostly Muslim countries.

The Central Council of Jews welcomed the vote, calling it an important signal that their concerns were being addressed.

"The fight against anti-Semitism is all of our responsibility," the group said in a statement. "The respectful treatment of minorities is part of the core values of our democracy."

Josef Schuster, the group's president, called for increased efforts to include anti-bias training in integration courses for migrants, but explicitly rejected any effort to instrumentalise the issue to discriminate against Muslims or others.

Jewish groups last month called for legal changes and increased enforcement to crack down on anti-Semitic acts following the burning of Jewish symbols and Israeli flags.

The proposal calls for the creation of a new commissioner post to coordinate efforts to tackle anti-Semitism by the federal government, states and civil society.

It foresees the creation of an independent advisory panel with Jewish and non-Jewish experts from academic, education and other sectors, as well as a federal-state commission.

The proposal also calls for improved gathering of statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, tighter laws banning Holocaust denial on the internet and consequences for the immigration status of foreign citizens who incite hatred.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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