Anti-Semitic Violence on the Rise in Europe, U.N. Hears

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I the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, a meeting at the United Nations addressed anti-Semitism in Europe. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

The United Nations held its first-ever meeting on the rise of worldwide anti-Semitic violence Thursday in the wake of attacks in Paris that left 20 people dead, including four Jews in a targeted attack on a Kosher supermarket.

French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy told the General Assembly at the meeting the world has to confront "the renewed advance of this radical inhumanity, this total baseness that is anti-Semitism."

The United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II, driven by the devastating effects of anti-Semitism and genocide of 6 million Jews, one of the reasons the "plague" of anti-Semitism must be eradicated, Lévy said.

The meeting was planned in response to a wave of anti-Semitic violence in Europe over the past year, but the messages delivered Thursday had a sense of renewed urgency in the wake of attacks by radical Islamists in Paris on January 9.

In November, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said a "hatred of Jews" was on the rise across his country and the rest of Europe, spurred by violence in the Middle East. Chants like "Gas the Jews" were hurled during protests against the six-week-long conflict between Gaza and Israel in July and August last year, Steinmeier said.

The conflict left 2,150 people dead, according to the United Nations, the majority of them Palestinian.

"Grievances about Israeli actions must never be used as an excuse to attack Jews," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "In the same vein, criticisms of Israeli actions should not be summarily dismissed as anti-Semitism."

The world "has a duty to speak out" against anti-Semitism, he said.

The January attack on the supermarket in France, saw a gunmen, believed to be Amedy Coulibaly, storm the Hyper Cache kosher supermarket in east Paris, holding several people hostage and killing four. Coulibaly had said he was acting on behalf of the militant group, the Islamic State. He was later killed when police raided the store. The incident came two days after the shooting rampage at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, an attack for which Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen claimed responsibility.

France, with a population of 4.7 million Muslims, one of the largest in Europe, has struggled with anti-Semitism over the years. In July, French president François Hollande convened an emergency meeting of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist leaders after anti-Jewish violence perpetrated in response to last summer's war in Gaza seeped into French neighborhoods in Paris and its suburbs, The Economist reports.

After the shooting at Hyper Cache, 2,000 people signed up with the Jewish Agency for Israel's office in Paris for information on how to move to Israel. Before, an average of 150 a week were signing up, Haaretz reports. Last year, 7,000 Jews left France for Israel, more than double the year before, the threat of violence against them having become "acute," Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, a nongovernmental organization, said at the meeting.

"This is a global problem. It is a problem in the United States, despite our long and proud history of religious freedom and our thorough efforts to combat anti-Semitism," Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said. Two-thirds of hate crimes in the U.S. are directed at Jews, according to a 2011 FBI report.

January 27 marks the International Day of Commemoration for Victims of the Holocaust and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where 1.1 million Jews perished.

"70 years later, after Auschwitz, we see that anti-Semitism is not history, it's current affairs," Robert S. Wistrich, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said. "Anti-Semitism has demonstrated an extraordinary resistance that we need to try and understand."