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Anti-Jewish hatred highest in 7 years, while overall religious hostilities decline
Anti-Semitic attacks on Jews both here and abroad are showing some of their sharpest increases in years, two new studies indicate. - photo by Mark A. Kellner
Anti-Semitic attacks on Jews both here and abroad are showing some of their sharpest increases in years, two new studies indicate.

In 2013, two years before killings of Jews at a French satirical magazine's offices and at a kosher supermarket in Paris, Jews in Europe saw a rise in anti-Semitism, the Pew Research Center reported.

A separate survey of Jewish college students in the United States, conducted before last summer's Gaza conflict between Hamas forces and Israel, revealed that 54 percent of those students said they'd either witnessed or received anti-Semitic attacks on campus.

Globally, anti-Jewish acts reached their highest point in the seven years, with 77 countries reporting such attacks. For 2013, Pew researchers found several troubling anti-Semitic attacks in Europe: In France, three men attacked a teenager wearing a kippah, or skullcap, in Vitry-SurSeine in March 2013, threatening, "We will kill all of you Jews." In Spain, vandals painted a large swastika on the walls of a bull ring in the city of Pinto in August, along with the words "Hitler was right."

Muslims were also provocatively attacked in 2013, the Pew report said, noting bloody pig heads were found at a site in Leipzig, Germany, where the Ahmadiyya Muslim community planned to build a mosque. Threatening letters were sent to Islamic worship centers and groups, claiming, "Muslims have no right to be in Ireland. The Irish people are not happy with your presence in our country, which belongs to the true Irish people."

Christians and Muslims were harassed in the greatest number of countries, Pew reported. Governments or social groups in 102 of the 198 countries surveyed, or 52 percent, harassed Christians. Muslims suffered official or social harassment in 99 nations, or 50 percent of those surveyed.

Anti-semitism in the U.S.

Separately, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, released an anti-Semitism study from its 2014 National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students.

"The fact that members of AIPAC, a vocal pro-Israel organization, report the highest rate of anti-Semitism could be interpreted to support the notion that campus anti-Semitism has a political element. Nevertheless, half of the more liberal-oriented 'peacenik' J Street (organization) members report anti-Semitism" as well, the report stated.

Survey authors Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar wrote that "Jewish students and supporters of Israel are not perceived as legitimate victim groups. Rather, they are perceived as privileged." The two say universities need to emphasize that anti-Semitic acts are "a serious issue equivalent to other forms of hate and bias" and encourage more reporting of such incidents.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles, said the rise in campus anti-Semitism, often linked to differing political views of the Middle East situation, is "a source of deep concern.

"These are ongoing campaigns fueled beyond any single campus," he said in an interview. "All of these things combine for extreme anti-Israelism, and spill out into anti-Semitism."

Cooper noted the role digital media has played in spreading hatred of Jews and Israel. "The Internet plays a very important role in making the messaging viral, in a way that targets young people around the world, and mainstreaming hate in the culture that counts for young people, which is the Internet and especially social media," he said.

He said the group last fall released "CombatHateU," a mobile app for iPhone and Android users to report and counter anti-Semitic acts on campus.

Global religious restrictions

Pew researcher Peter Henne noted that government restrictions against religion in general remained constant around the world, with 27 percent of the world's nations restricting religious activity in some fashion during 2013, only slightly less than the 29 percent reported in 2012.

Pew, which has conducted the surveys since 2007, compiles statistics on both governmental restrictions and "social hostilities. The restrictions range from registration requirements to outright bans on religious activities. For social hostilities against religion by individuals and groups, Pew said it generally relies on reports from various U.S., United Kingdom and European Union agencies, as well as data compiled by various non-governmental organizations in the human rights arena.

The research group does not include North Korea in its surveys because reliable data is not available, Pew said.

Activity in the United States is measured by religious freedom reports from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI's hate crime statistics. Using a scale ranging from 1 to 10, the United States went from a "government restrictions index" score of 1.6 in 2007 to 3.0 for 2013, down from 3.7 in 2012. On the "social hostilities" scale, however, the United States has gone from 1.9 percent in 2007 though 2012 to 3.1 for 2013, apparently a rather sharp increase.

Henne told National Public Radio that local issues related to religious land use, such as building or expanding mosques and churches, as well as individual religious rights for prisoners, were behind the American scores. The prisoner rights issue is something the Supreme Court of the United States addressed in a January ruling on an inmate's beard request.

Mideast, North Africa highest

Both in terms of social hostilities and government restrictions, countries in the Middle East/North Africa region, often referred to as MENA, scored the highest in 2013, mirroring previous years.

Although the area's government restrictions score dropped slightly, to 6.0 in 2013 from 6.2 in 2012, Pew said the 2013 score "remained much higher" than the global average of 2.4. Social hostilities were also highest in the MENA region, Pew reported, although the 2013 score of 5.8 was a drop from 6.4 a year earlier.

Both Libya and Qatar registered rises in social hostilities, Pew said, with Libya going from a score of 5.4 to 6.9, largely due to Salafist attacks on Sufi religious sites, as well as the targeting of Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya during 2013, two years before this month's beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group.

Attacks on Christians in the region continued this week as Islamic State militants abducted more than 200 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria, a country torn by sectarian fighting for several years. Along with the abductions, media reports indicate militants destroyed a Greek Catholic church in Tal Hurmiz, said to be one of the oldest churches in Syria.

Governmental actions in China against Tibetan Buddhists and in Pakistan against Ahmadiyya Muslims contributed to the rise in the overall government restrictions score for the Asia-Pacific region, Pew said. The region scored 4.2 in 2013 for government restrictions, up from 3.5 in 2012.

Social hostility scoring for the area went from 2.9 in 2012 to 2.2 in 2013, due in part to declines in both hostile responses to proselytizing and a drop in the number of countries where one religious group tried to prevent another from operating.

Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the new data was a call to action.

"Religious freedom merits a seat at the table with economic and security concerns as the U.S. and other nations conduct their affairs," she said. "From USCIRF's perspective, we continue to press Congress and the administration to prioritize religious freedom and urge the media to give religious freedom the coverage it deserves."
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